Will you get a parking ticket? There's an app to tell you that

Baltimore computer developers use city data to build 'risk' app for motorists

  • Shea Frederick, left, and James Schaffer of SpotAgent.com are two computer "geeks" who are developing a smart phone application that enables Baltimoreans to check on the likelihood of getting a parking ticket wherever they park in the city.
Shea Frederick, left, and James Schaffer of SpotAgent.com… (Baltimore Sun photo by Jed…)
March 14, 2011|By Gus G. Sentementes, The Baltimore Sun

Ever feel like you're gambling when you don't feed the parking meter or race through that just-turned-red light?

Now a new website — and soon a smartphone application — will help Baltimore drivers know the odds of receiving a ticket wherever they illegally park their car, run a red light or exceed the speed limit.

SpotAgent.com is the creation of James Schaffer and Shea Frederick, Baltimore computer professionals who are among the first to create a web application using a recently released trove of data on Baltimore — information about everything from parking to crime to property taxes.

In making government data freely available on the Internet, Baltimore is following an emerging national trend among municipalities. Baltimore City officials posted the data in January, and last month a group of about 40 technologists gathered at the city's technology incubator in Canton to try crafting useful applications for the public.

Schaffer, who lives in Baltimore's Remington neighborhood, thought of a citywide parking application for the web because he constantly gets hit with tickets.

"I've just totally gotten whacked with parking tickets," said Schaffer, 29, a senior interface designer at Advertising.com. "My girlfriend yells at me all the time."

Using the city data, Schaffer and Frederick created a web application that allows a user to type in an address and then learn the probability of getting a ticket there. The website can tell you the worst day of the week to park on any given block, as well as the cost of the average citation for parking violations and from red-light and speed cameras.

At the Light Street Pavilion, at 301 Light St. at the Inner Harbor, the most common violation is a red-light camera ticket, which carries a $75 fine. The web application also cautions users to be careful parking there on Tuesdays.

The new app "gives you a threat rating," said Frederick, 34, an independent computer developer who lives in Hampden. "We can look at the history of citations and gauge the likelihood of getting a ticket."

Schaffer and Frederick said they plan to build paid mobile applications for iPhones and Android-powered phones and to expand their coverage to other cities, including Portland, Ore., and San Francisco.

Whether web developers can use the city data to make applications that bring in revenue is still unknown. Baltimore officials released the data without providing terms of service to guide developers seeking to create applications for for-profit ventures.

Baltimore's law department is crafting guidelines for how developers could use the data in such ventures, said Rico Singleton, Baltimore's chief information officer.

Frederick said he would rather charge a small fee for a mobile app than make money by selling advertisements in a free app. App stores for iPhone and Google Android-powered phones have thousands of free apps filled with advertising.

"We're not into the whole ad thing — ads are kind of creepy," Frederick said. "I don't like to see ads on my phone."



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