Ticket Ninja service helps drivers avoid late fees

More than 758,000 parking tickets were issued in the city of Milwaukee in 2012 at a rate of 63,000 per month, according to research done by Nick Gartmann, who recently launched Ticket Ninja, a web service that helps the recipients of those nasty fines make sure they are paid on time.

The service, primarily, is insurance against late fees, said Gartmann. How the service works is it scans a city’s database of parking tickets based on license plate numbers to find tickets that are unpaid. It then sends users an email when a ticket is issued to remind them to pay the ticket. Users can also enter their credit card information on the site, allowing Ticket Ninja to pay the ticket one day before late fees go into effect. The initial notification email also tells you when the service is planning to pay the ticket and provides access to an online dashboard to see when parking tickets are coming up and gives users the option to change date of payment at any time.

Ticket Ninja currently charges $5 over the parking ticket cost, and is soon changing to charge 15 percent of the ticket price. Part of that is for revenue to be put back into the website, and part of that is to cover costs of securely storing credit card information and paying extra online fees that are on the websites that cities use for parking ticket payments.

“The biggest challenge is that the websites that the cities use for managing and paying their parking tickets online are so archaic, that working with those systems has been a pretty huge pain,” Gartmann said.

Ticket Ninja was launched in Milwaukee, and is now in Chicago and Madison, as well. Gartmann has plans to expand it to more cities in the coming months.

“In the pretty near future, once I get the marketing and design all figured out, I’m planning on spreading into L.A., San Francisco, New York, etc.”

Different cities present different penalties, and late-fee timetables, and Gartmann has modified aspects of the service to fit each city.

“In Milwaukee, parking tickets go up after 10 days, so after nine days, I pay it. In Chicago, parking tickets go up after 42 days, so I pay it 41 days after it was issued. They have a little more time, but their parking tickets also double up in price.”

Another feature Gartmann is currently working on to add to Ticket Ninja is tow insurance in Milwaukee or boot insurance in Chicago.

“In the city of Milwaukee, if you have three unpaid tickets at any time, the next ticket – no matter what it’s for – they can tow you. In Chicago, it’s two tickets, and they put the boot on you. I’m working on a feature right now that will pay tickets as you get them if you get them too quickly.”

Gartmann works as a web developer at Rokkin Cat, a Milwaukee-based software contracting and consulting company, which he co-founded in September, 2011. One of his Rokkin Cat colleagues, Josh Holtz, has also launched a service pertaining to parking in Milwaukee called Goodnight Car, a mobile app that registers your car with Milwaukee’s Night Parking Permission website.

Ultimately, Gartmann sees Ticket Ninja as something that not only will be a benefit to those who commonly face parking violations, but for the cities that issue tickets, as well.

“I’ve talked to a couple police officers and people who give out tickets, and they seem to think that it will be a good thing for the city. The city of Milwaukee has $54 million in unpaid parking tickets right now. Hopefully I can help them stay on top of that cash flow a bit better, and deal less with warrants and things like that.”

Gartmann started the service after receiving a slew of parking tickets this past spring. Then, “being the programmer that I am,” he said, he wrote a program that paid his tickets automatically. Friends of his soon took notice and wondered if they could use the service, too.

“I quickly threw a user account system around the whole thing, and just set it up so they could get access to it,” he said. “I posted it on Reddit to the Milwaukee sub-reddit (reddit.com/r/Milwaukee), just in case anybody wanted to use it. That first day, 102.1 FM picked up the story, and that’s kind of how it launched into being something that more and more people started using and now I’ve got a business around it.”

Dan Shafer covers innovation and technology for BizTimes Milwaukee. Send news to him at dan.shafer@biztimes.com or follow him on Twitter @danshaferMKE.

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