Chicago to quadruple automated payment kiosks for city services
Photo courtesy of CityBase
Chicago's network of automated payment kiosks for city services will be moving into high gear under an agreement with a local technology startup that could give the city one of the largest such networks in the U.S.
City residents have been able to pay parking tickets, vehicle impoundment fees, water and sewer bills, business taxes and other bills at payment kiosks using cash, checks, credit and debit cards since 2007. The city finance department website provides information about the payment kiosk locations, which typically are police stations or libraries.
The only problem with the kiosks has been that with only 20 of them available citywide, many residents have been underserved.
Under the new agreement with CityBase, the city will nearly quadruple the number of payment kiosks in the network. CityBase has also launched a website — pay.cityofchicago.org — where residents can making payments online, and the company plans to introduce a mobile payment service in the future.
More kiosks to be available
"Having over 70 locations of kiosks will mean that over 90 percent of people living in Chicago will be within two miles of a location to make a payment," said Kelli Palm, lead product manager for kiosks and point-of-sale at CityBase. "They don't necessarily have to go to City Hall to make a payment. They can find something close to walking distance within their neighborhood. Usability and accessibility is what we want to drive home."
The kiosks will also make it easier for people to make last-minute payments. Residents who are in danger of having a service shut off and who can't get to the payment center before closing can make their payment at the kiosk and have it posted the next business day.
The kiosk-user's account is automatically updated; without this feature, "It's possible that their service could be shut off," Palm said, adding that the kiosks have helped to reduce the number of late payments. Palm thinks the kiosks will provide other services as well.
Chicago finance department spokesperson Kristen Cabanban said that the city did not wish to comment on the new kiosks, except to confirm the agreement with CityBase and say that the new installations have not yet begun.
CityBase brought Chicago's existing payment kiosks onto its software platform in 2015. The company, which has provided its services to more than 100 government entities and utility companies and has installed kiosks in 40 U.S. markets, will move the existing kiosks onto a new cellular-connected platform, along with the 50 additional kiosks the company will be installing.
The new Chicago kiosks will be EMV, PCI and ADA compliant and user-friendly for residents with limited reading skills.
Because the platform uses cellular connectivity, the kiosks will not need to connect to the Wi-Fi network where they are located. The cloud-based software platform is Linux based.
CityBase designed the kiosks and selected the peripheral devices in partnership with a kiosk hardware provider that the company declined to disclose.
"What we wanted to do was combine our top-of-the-line software with top-of-the-line hardware," Palm said.
Largest project to date
The Chicago project will be the company's largest to date, and could make the "Second City" a leader in the "Smart Cities" movement by bringing new benefits to both residents and city administrators. Residents will be able to make more than one transaction at a portal, and city departments will be better able centralize their payments accounting, Palm said.
One of the first tasks for CityBase is to perform an analysis intended to streamline a city's business processes using all payment methods.
Many government agencies operate as "silos," which means that they could be using outdated legacy systems in a patchwork fashion, said Elizabeth Ress, CityBase marketing manager.
"You end up with a bunch of government agencies that are acting like separate businesses," she said.
Cash acceptance critical
Palm said cash acceptance is important due to the large number of Americans — estimated at 33.5 million — who are underbanked.
The company has learned from past experience that about one-third of all utility payments are made in person, and 65 percent are made using cash.
CityBase recognizes that some city employees might fear that the kiosks could threaten their jobs, but Palm maintains that this hasn't been the case.
"The cashiers are empowered to be customer service representatives," Palm said. "They can now focus on those person-to-person interactions. They can focus that time on helping customers solve bigger problems, such as setting up payment plans, doing a name change, helping to prevent service from being shut off."
Elliot Maras is the editor of KioskMarketplace.com and FoodTruckOperator.com.