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Over the past 40 years, a co-ordinated government and social effort in the Netherlands has succeeded in largely driving dangerous and polluting automobiles out of city centres and re-establishing the bicycle at the heart of urban living.
However, as beneficial as the relentless Dutch focus on cycling has been for the environment and public health and safety, it has brought its own set of problems.
In the city of The Hague – the seat of the Dutch government and home to many international organisations, such as the International Criminal Court (ICC) – there are now 1.1 bicycles for every one of the city’s 515,000-odd residents, and cycling holds a 70% modal share of local transportation.
The city authorities have long had to contend with bicycles turning up abandoned, wrecked or parked in inappropriate locations. This was creating a massive administrative headache and creating a bad impression for visitors.
“The city invests a lot in our public spaces, to keep our city neat and clean,” explains city enforcement agency head Dorothée Meijer. “It’s important that the streets, squares and parks of The Hague are well-maintained.”
Part of that effort, says Meijer, is to make sure bicycles add to the city’s charm instead of cluttering up public spaces.
The government relied on paper ticketing to enforce the rules, with officers applying different coloured tickets associated with different violations.
In the case of a clear violation, they were able to remove bicycles in a 30-minute timeframe. In the case of abandoned cycles, they had to wait 28 days, plus a final two-day warning before impounding the bike.
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Although this system was not badly set up, it was becoming problematic. In many cases, bad weather rendered tickets illegible or missing entirely.
Having recognised the importance of mobile apps in modernising service delivery, The Hague turned to app development supplier Kony’s Mobility Platform and Visualiser Enterprise Edition to create a bicycle violation app.
According to Kony vice-president of Europe and Africa Jonathan Best, The Hague was an ideal candidate for the recently refreshed Kony product suite.
“This is a simple process that never justified technological innovation before, but now we can achieve benefits at low cost,” he says.
Kony works on the principle that apps are now becoming so pervasive that to develop them externally no longer makes sense.
The design of apps has to be democratised, it believes, so its product now includes features such as an easy-to-use visualisation tool that gives people with little technical expertise or coding experience a hand in the creation of a system that works best for them.
“The best apps – those that add most value to businesses – are those that have the most understanding of the business built into them,” says Best.
The Hague took advantage of this to enable one of its digital systems advisors, Johann ter Schegget, to conduct an in-depth study of the processes its enforcement officers followed and how they worked in the field to come up with ideas for an app that worked best for their needs.
For example, whereas previous apps used in The Hague for car parking tickets had been based on Windows Mobile, the city found it was best to go with Android – although the flexibility to deploy on iOS, Windows or even Blackberry has been retained.
The visualiser tool was used to develop prototypes that could be shared with the enforcement officers for feedback, meaning further changes could be made early on in the process, as opposed to rushed through in future releases.
Kony claims it can eliminate 70% of app defects associated with the user interface (UI) by doing this. Finally, developers used Kony’s Studio tool to translate the prototype into working code.
In this case, it is thought the city shaved between 40% and 60% of the total cost of ownership required for developing native mobile apps, and sped up time to market as well.
App increases efficiency
“The goal was to make work easier and more efficient, giving us fewer administrative tasks to perform,” said ter Schegget.
“With the new process they accomplish the same goals, with around 10% of the administrative work previously required.”
The finished version of the app incorporates a workflow engine that includes just three screens: One for applying labels to bicycles; one for updating the status of a violation; and an overview screen to look up bikes already in the system.
“It’s helpful when we can use apps that allow us to instantly direct our people without having to provide instructions on paper,” says Meijer. “With the app, they carry their work along with them. It makes it a lot easier for them to do their work.
“We can assess where they are and what they have done, and then use that data when allocating resources for the following day.”
Enforcement officer Ricardo Spier says instead of fumbling between handwritten notes and a camera, he can now record everything with one device, scanning the label, taking a picture and adding any needed notes
The app also simplified the overall process from the first capture of a violation all the way through to the backend, with the additional bonus that the device allows Spier to demonstrate that all the right rules and processes have been followed in every case.
“I can do my work more speedily and at higher quality, so this app has been very beneficial to me,” he says.