The applications of mass text alerts are many and varied. Some of the most remote, deprived communities on earth are getting better access to healthcare. Hostage negotiators are dealing with desperate people in a new way. Even emergency services are starting to respond to 911 calls sent via text.
Add to this impressive array of uses the recent initiative implemented by local authorities in Moscow. Drivers will soon be able to receive advance notice that their vehicle is about to be towed.
As of June, drivers who register for the service will receive a text alert 15 to 20 minutes before their car is moved, allowing them to move it themselves and thus avoid the astronomical towing and storage fees. A parking fine of 3000 rubles ($88) will still apply, according the report in Kommersant.
The initiative was set up by Moscow’s IT department in response to the introduction last year of multiple paid parking zones in the city. Anyone in violation of the restrictions faces a towing charge of between 3000 and 7000 rubles, in addition to the parking fine.
According to the city, more than 300 tow trucks are moving between 500 and 600 vehicles every day. Under the text scheme, traffic police simply check license plates against a database, before sending an SMS to any illegally parked driver who is signed up. The city hopes to save up to $2.6 million per month with the text alert system.
Moscow is leading the way when it comes to supporting its traffic police with technology. In 2012, the city began sending a network of cars with satellite positioning systems and dashboard cameras out to search the streets for parking violation which are then photographed. The fines are then mailed to drivers.
It’s not surprising that citizens would prefer to do things differently. And so far, 3.8 million of them have signed up for the unified alert system (which, in addition to traffic violations, also warns subscribers about community concerns like hot water availability).
As with so many of these ventures, it’s hard to tell whether it’s a flash in the pan, a regional solution to a specific problem – or something more. Could Moscow be the world’s guinea pig for reducing congestions, bad parking habits, and unwelcome fines? Is there a driver in the world that wouldn’t like access to a service that politely texts them so they have a chance to move their car before someone moves it for them? We think this one’s got legs, but only time will tell…