One of my favorite things about our work in data analytics has been the chance to support varied parts of the City do more with their data. In 2018 we partnered with the Seattle Municipal Court (“SMC”) to explore how we could improve the outcomes of parking and traffic tickets issued in the city.
This is no small issue: SMC issues some 600,000 parking tickets and traffic camera citations per year. Joint analysis of 2016 data showed that some 40% of issued tickets defaulted, and some 25% of tickets were referred to debt collection agencies; bad outcomes for drivers and for SMC. We wondered whether a redesign of communications – informed by behavioral science, similar to our work on pet licensing – could help, and whether we could leverage this same administrative data to track a low-cost but and robust randomized experiment.
Motivated by a desire to reduce default and referrals to debt collection, we designed two new communications:
- a new version of the default reminder card sent to each driver after 19 days; and
- a new courtesy notice reminding drivers of their payment obligations that would be sent after 9 days (prior to any default).
We ran two simultaneous randomized control trials (“RCTs”) to evaluate the impact of these changes. This approach would allow us to test not only the individual impact of our two interventions was incremental.
The results of the trials, conducted over 10 weeks, showed significant impacts on ticket outcomes. Even controlling for impact of the other intervention, the new courtesy notice demonstrated a 13% reduction in the likelihood of tickets defaulting and the new default notice design demonstrated a 9% reduction in the likelihood of tickets ending up in debt collection.
These outcomes are more than just interesting statistics. The new designs would lead to about 22,000 drivers annually – including around 8,000 people of color each year – to avoid debt collection over an unpaid ticket.
Inspired by some fantastic examples in other cities, we’re looking to deepen our use of behavioral science, data and design to improve City services. We’d love to hear of ideas and examples of where some of these approaches could be used to better-support those who live and work in Seattle.