Date Published: July 28, 2017, 3:40 p.m.
he case study shows how the city of Cartago, in Costa Rica, uses its Geographic Information System (GIS) to improve municipal management and particularly regarding municipal finances. It showcases the specific example of how the GIS has assisted the municipality in improving its transit fines system, thus increasing its efficiency, the revenue collected and improved transit management.
With a population of 157,000 inhabitants, Cartago is one of the biggest cities of Costa Rica. It has a positive Social Development Index, which grew of 10,8% between 2007 and 2015. Cartago holds the third position at the Municipal Management Index which measures local governments’ efficiency. Since 2008, the municipality has innovated management by using SMART technologies, launching the Cartago Digital initiative and the Municipal Digital Agenda, which constitutes a roadmap to build Cartago as a SMART city. Priority actions will cover issues such as: ensure access to internet infrastructures to citizens; modernize the technological infrastructure of the municipality; deliver online services to citizens; strengthen citizen engagement with SMART technologies; improve, social, economic and urban development and environmental sustainability with SMART applications; create a surveillance system; etc.
One of the tools at the core of the construction of Cartago Digital, is the creation of a robust Geographic Information System (GIS). The implementation of GIS in Cartago started in 2007. In the first version of the system, each municipal department was responsible for acquiring their own licenses and structuring their own model. In 2010, the municipality transformed the GIS in a structure that centralized data in a single server and created a unique consultation tool to be used by all municipal services. More recently, in 2013, the GIS was updated towards a modern platform that combines mobile applications, web interface, cloud-based software and makes the information available to citizen.
Cartago´s GIS has more than 300 information layers related to a variety of topics and includes mapping of properties, addresses, districts; visualization of the city Master Plan; fiscal cadastres, building permits, businesses’ licenses, concessions and authorizations; mapping of polluting activities; maintenance and monitoring of infrastructures; potable water and sewage networks; street maintenance; information about touristic sites and activities, etc.
Among other benefits, the new GIS has helped Cartago to improve tax and fees collection. An interesting example is the automation of parking and transit fines created in 2014. The solution combines a mobile application with a management software that allows levying the fine on the place where the infraction occurs, stocking information, printing the ticket and automatically uploading the data in the central database of the municipality.
This system improves the monitoring of fines’ payment because municipal agents and citizens can follow-up the process online, know if the fine has been paid, send automatic notifications and accelerate payment. The system also allows an increase in transparency, which reduces the risks of fraud by the offender and of corruption from the agent. It also minimizes the number of appeals as the system allows to follow-up the registry with pictures that prove the infraction (the number of appeals between March 2014 and March 2015 went down from 72 to 18). The project also resulted in greater efficiency in reducing the operating costs and increasing revenue. The productivity of inspection agents increased by 45% between 2014 and 2015, passing from an average of 25 infractions per day in 2014 to 45 infractions per day in 2015. The revenue from infractions went from 15,9 million colones ($28 800 USD) in January 2014 to 34,7 million colones ($62 930 USD) in March 2015. A more efficient fine system also brings improvements to the city’s road traffic by leading to changes in drivers’ behaviour.
Thanks to the integration with the GIS, the municipality can immediately visualize in maps the fines reported by municipal agents. This offers relevant information to the municipality and allows to: identify critical traffic zones, expand parking zones delimitation, better distribute traffic regulation officers in specific sectors of the city, and in general, improve the transit regulations.
The GIS is a tool particularly useful to improve taxes and fees collection and administration processes, by allowing the municipality to: update fiscal cadastres and properties’ databases, improve the inspection of business’ licenses, building permits and real property, etc. It provides the municipality with a better knowledge of its taxpayers and a bigger control over who has paid and who hasn’t, and the possibility to generate targeted campaigns in districts that owe the most. The GIS also supports the municipality in identifying frauds and data manipulation in tax property declarations. The GIS allows to confirm in real time the information provided by the taxpayer and adjust the amount of taxes and licenses, even if taxpayers didn’t declare the business activity or the real size of the property. In addition, the GIS also brings benefits to citizen: taxpayers can know the state of their finances through the web and mobile applications, and process quicker transactions online such as exonerations, building permits, land use permits, property and license declaration, reports, inspections, etc. This also contributes to improve the institutional image, creating better credibility in municipal services. More specifically, in Cartago, the GIS program has allowed to increase the budget allocation from 5.5 billion colones ($9,9 million USD) in 2006 to 23 billion colones ($41,6 million USD) in 2015, corresponding to an increase of 315% for the period and 12% between 2014 and 2015. Considering that the GIS project costed $600,000 USD, spread over several years, the return on investment was very quick.
According to Eduardo Jiménez González, ICT Director of Cartago, one of the main difficulties encountered during the implementation of the GIS was to ensure transversal collaboration between all departments and overcome the resistance to change within each service. The lack of experience of municipal officials in using technological tools was also a challenge. To overcome these difficulties, an important element was to involve municipal officials to create an ownership feeling, which leads to real endorsement and use. Other key elements were to hire a local private company to provide training to municipal officers in different departments, and to have the leadership of the Mayor and his Cabinet to ensure the participation of all departments. Other elements that ensured the success of the project included: