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It's the image many customers dread when entering a government service building — long lines, long cashier transactions and lots of frustrated customers.
But in Chicago, many of those issues have been erased thanks to the introduction of Pay-Ease's automated commerce machine, or bill payment kiosk. The application, which was launched in August 2007, allows citizens to pay parking and red-light citations, as well as utility bills.
As of February, approximately 20 kiosks had been deployed at Chicago payment centers, police stations and libraries. They are also installed at Chicago's O'Hare and Midway airports, and DePaul University.
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The city government was familiar with bill payment kiosks like those in grocery stores and other locations that allowed people to pay utility bills, said Dean Scaros, president of PayEase. After witnessing the success of those kiosks, the city enlisted Pay-Ease in an effort to provide convenience for its citizens.
Chicago has seen such a positive reaction that they are in the process of adding other functions to the kiosk, such as license renewals.
Pay-Ease's software can be customized to allow consumers to pay bills, purchase gift cards, transfer funds, purchase wireless and long distance minutes, renew driver's licenses and registrations and conduct ATM transactions, said Marc Meisel, Pay-Ease's chief executive officer.
"We can replicate the kiosk for any business that has a need to collect money," he said.
The chief benefit from the kiosk has been in the reduction of lines, Scaros said.
To initiate the kiosk transaction, customers first swipe their bill, which brings the appropriate information on the screen. Users can also look up their bills by their license plate number. After swiping a credit card or paying by cash or check, the transaction is processed and a receipt given.
"It takes under 30 seconds to complete a transaction at the kiosk," Scaros said.
About 20 bill payment kiosks have been deployed including this one at Chicago's City Hall.
The Chicago government has been able to reduce its overhead and redistribute some of its cashiers. A single transaction with a cashier can cost the government anywhere from $5.75 to $8.50, Meisel said.
"The kiosk gives them a tremendous amount of savings," Meisel said, though he declined to release figures for exactly how much they saved.
In the first three months of the Chicago deployment, more than 20,000 transactions in the amount of $1.5 million have been collected, he said. Fifty percent of those transactions have been paid with cash while 25 percent were paid with a credit card and another 25 percent paid with check.
As for problems or complaints, the city has heard no more than a hand full, Scaros said.
"We have improved procedures as we have gone along to streamline the process, but we have heard nothing but great things from those who use them," he said.
In addition to the kiosk deployment in Chicago, Pay-Ease has launched similar kiosks in Milwaukee, Wis. They are also in talks to deploy the bill payment kiosks in at least four other major municipalities.
In Chicago, the city government plans to expand outside of city property and into other retail locations such as grocery stores and convenience stores. Scaros said a total of 30 kiosks should be installed in those locations by the summer of 2008.
"The city is looking to expand its network by putting the kiosks in places where they don't have the payment center infrastructure," Meisel said. "It allows them to have 24/7 cashiers in place all over the city."