The Road Transport Department (RTD), responsible among others for the vehicle registration processes, road tax services, the vehicle emissions services, driving license processes, but also in charge for analysing and solving road transportation problems for the general good of the public, recognized the significance of technology in todayâ€™s competitive environment. One of the services that created a lot of burden to both citizens and the public service, long waiting hours, huge costs for the government but also frustration to the citizens was the payment of the vehicle road tax fee. It was thus decided to create for this service an additional distribution channel, through the Internet. The payment of the vehicle road tax service, payable annually or bi-annually, in January or July for all the registered vehicles in the republic, was transferred through an eGovernment project initiative into the World Wide Web. Citizens can pay their taxes on time, from anywhere without the need to be present at any of the departmentâ€™s different locations. During the first year of operation, 2006, the results were not very promising. Only 6% of the total registered vehicles used the Internet service to pay their Road Tax fee. RTD responded with a massive promotion of the service throughout the media but also with other advertising methods such as stickers and live demonstration in the various departmentâ€™s locations. In 2007, the results were impressive. 48% of the total registered vehicles used the online service to pay their Road Tax. Today, the service is in its third year of operation and is gaining huge success among the citizens. More than 92% of all vehicle owners used it to pay their road taxes obligation in 2008. The Road Transport Department has been awarded the 2008 Cyprus Innovation Award for the Public Sector for its web-enabled system.
One of the Lisbon Summitâ€™s objectives is to make the European Union the worldâ€™s most competitive knowledge-based society by 2010. One of the goals is that â€œbusinesses and citizens must have access to an inexpensive, world-class communications infrastructure and a wide range of servicesâ€. In more detail, the EU Action Plan 2002 and mainly Action Plan 2005 that followed on the summitâ€™s objectives, give top priority to e-government actions so that member state governments make efforts to ensure that basic governmental services are available online, interactively. As part of the government strategy to improve the quality of services and inline with the EU 2005 and i2010 Action Plans that aim to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the public services, RTD initiated the project of offering the Online Road Tax Service to the public. The initiative did not require the altering of any legislation but let however to simplification of procedures.
Every registered vehicle owner that has an obligation to pay the road tax fee is a potential user of the Online Road Tax Service.
The initiative began in February 2005. The Department of Information Technology Services (DITS) in co-operation with the IBM maintenance team, as IBM is the vendor of the Road Transport Department system, undertook the analysis, design and implementation of this eService. As the Cyprus government has currently no acquirer mechanisms for handling online credit card payments, JCC Payment Systems Ltd, a third party supplier provided the gateway for processing online payment transactions. The analysis ensured ease of use and expandability as this service is targeted to a big segment of Cyprus population, the registered vehicle owners. The implementation and testing phase of the process was completed at the end of the summer 2005. A pilot version of the application was placed on the intranet and tested thoroughly. It was stress tested and benchmarked to the maximum limit of web site hits to ensure a stable and efficient delivery of the service.
The departmentâ€™s web site was updated to include an easy to use process that people can use to pay the road tax fee. The process requires the citizen to input the identification number along with the vehicleâ€™s insurance policy number and then an option is given for renewal for 6 or 12 moths. The citizen selects an option and after the payment is made through JCCâ€™s payments gateway service via credit card, the citizen is able to print the road tax payment receipt. The communication between the departmentâ€™s website and JCC for processing the credit card transactions is done through web services handling XML messages. The departmentâ€™s website is handling the citizenâ€™s requests through its web server which has a secure network connection with the departmentâ€™s database. The security level of the system is handled using an SSL protocol and the integrity of the system is ensured by a special barcode, which is generated and printed on the receipt, unique to each vehicle renewed.
The Online Road Tax service implementation changed dramatically the relevant bureaucratic governmental process and alleviated some costs associated with it. The following list shows the various costs removed or minimised and the benefits from the online implementation: - Reduction in personnel. The old process required personnel for the preparation and delivery of the Road Tax service billing statement to the Citizens through the mail. A third party vendor that was awarded the process through a public tender handled the mailing. Citizens made their payments at the Co-operative Banks, which the government was in an agreement with. This required four government officials for the tender process but also for the extraction and preparation of the vehicle ownerâ€™s credentials and mailing address through the departmentâ€™s system database. These officials are no longer required for this task. - Time reduction. The time to prepare and award the tender as well as the time to extract the necessary credentials and address information is waved. It was estimated that at least 8% of the mailing was returned due to wrong address information and this required manual intervention and special reconciliation processes. This is not needed with the online service. Additionally the payments used to be collected within a period of six months from the Co-operative Banks. The fees are now collected immediately and the governmentâ€™s account is credited instantly since the payments are carried out through credit cards. - Cost reduction. The tender and mailing process, which had an estimated cost of 34,000 euro per annum including administration cost, is removed. Approximately 120,000 euro per annum charged from the Co-operative Banks as a processing fee is now also removed. Since the payments are credited instantly in the governmentâ€™s account and not after six months as used to be the case, the government benefits from the immediate collection of this revenue and this benefit (considering current interest rates) is estimated to be more than 3,000,000 euro per annum. All these benefits outweigh the 800,000 euro credit card processing fee paid to JCC. The cost reduction for citizens who can now pay the Road Tax fee from the comfort of their home or office cannot be quantified. The percentage however of the citizens that chose to use this service and the dramatic increase of this number within the three years that this service is in operation is very indicative and does not require any more quantification.
The success of the service has created an interest amongst other governmental departments and organizations that are in the process of transforming their existing services to the World Wide Web as e-government initiatives.
Lesson 1 - Awareness Many factors have been identified that are critical to the success of an e-government service. The first and foremost is the awareness and acceptance from citizens and companies. The results of the first year in operation for the Online Road Tax service identified the low awareness of the service among the citizens and car owners in general. The actions undertaken by RDT to overcome this barrier, through marketing campaigns, promotions and demonstrations gave immediate results. Lesson 2 - User friendly system Another factor that is critical to the success is the ease-of-use of the service. The process is designed in a way that will be as easy as possible to use. It is estimated that the 3-step process of Road Tax payment takes between 1 and 3 minutes to complete and this shows the emphasis of the initiative in respect to the time saved and the burden removed from the Citizens. Lesson 3 - Moving forward. Providing more services through the Web Finally, the huge potential that arises from the success of the Online Road Tax service, shows the necessity to provide more eServices. RDT with the help of DITS, is in the process of implementing additional e-government services such as the improvement of the online vehicle registration service and the driving license test booking process, the later being characterized as the most difficult and bureaucratic process of the department.