CHICAGO — Milwaukee resident Nick Gartmann wants to save Chicago drivers from one of the worst things about parking tickets — late fees.
Gartmann is the creator of Ticket Ninja, a service which tracks a subscribing driver's parking tickets and pays them automatically on time, so late fees don't pile up.
The 24-year old software programmer launched Ticket Ninja in his hometown in June, partially to help his own pocketbook.
Like many drivers, Gartmann would forget to pay his tickets on time, then get slapped with a late fee. He decided to write a computer script which would check the city of Milwaukee's website daily for parking ticket dates, then automatically pay them on their due date.
"I had a tendency to get parking tickets and forget to pay them," Gartmann said sheepishly. "The company grew out of my problem."
He expanded into Madison, Wis., a few weeks ago, and now brings his Ticket Ninja south of the border to Chicago, where parking ticket fines double if unpaid after 42 days.
For example, a $50 expired meter ticket doubles to $100, while a $200 city sticker violation will instantly become $400 if unpaid by the deadline. Drivers with unpaid tickets turned over to collection agencies face additional fees for interest and collection fees.
Milwaukee drivers have it pretty easy by comparison, generally seeing lower late fees for unpaid tickets, with a maximum $15 in late fees for most tickets.
More than 2 million parking tickets were issued in 2011 according to the city's Finance Department, earning the city more than $150 million.
"It's a product of mercy for you guys," Gartmann said of his app. "You have it rough down there. It's brutal."
Ticket Ninja's servers check all three cities' parking ticket websites every 24 hours. As soon as a new parking ticket pops up on a subscriber's vehicle, the driver immediately is notified by email.
Subscribers can opt to pay instantly if they wish, or choose not to pay if they want to contest the ticket. If a user doesn't do anything, Ticket Ninja automatically pays the ticket the day before the due date.
The subscriber gets charged a $3 fee every time a ticket gets paid. Gartmann said the fee is a great value since not paying would mean a doubling of the original fine.
"The price point is not outrageous, " he said. "Realistically, this is really for people who are repeat offenders. It's a money-saving tool for people who have things like this slip their mind."
The ultimate Ticket Ninja benefit, according to Gartmann, is never being a victim of the Denver boot again.
Chicago car owners can have their vehicles booted if they rack up three unpaid parking or red-light camera tickets, or two unpaid tickets in "Final Determination" status for more than 12 months.
"If you're running this service it's impossible to be booted," Gartmann. "It's a guaranteed way not to get booted."
Interested drivers can sign up at Ticket Ninja's website.