New York City to Test Citizen Access Via Digital Kiosks

Rohit Khare (
Mon, 1 Apr 96 17:44:50 -0500

I don't know if I like the idea of an ATM machine for paying parking tickets,
but I'm definitely tickled to note:

> But it is typical of New York's creeping embrace of user-
> friendly technologies, that the "subway navigator" hot
> link on the city's own home page leads to a French tourist
> resource about New York's mass transit system.



City to Test Citizen Access Via Digital Kiosks

Imagine walking down Broadway past City Hall one dreamy afternoon this
summer, preoccupied with the fate of the young Mets hurlers when suddenly, off
in a corner, you hear a voice. "Psst. Kid! C'mere."

You spin expecting to see a peddler in Senegalese garb with a fold- out tray
of fake Gucci watches, but instead, you're face to face with a multimedia
computer kiosk beaming a full-motion video greeting from Mayor Rudolph
Giuliani. )

You step up and begin working through the drop-down menus activated by the
touch-sensitive screen. There's alternate-side-of- the-street parking
schedules here and information about programs for seniors in Queens. There are
hard facts about the tax lien the city slapped on your neighborhood deli last
week. Swipe your bank card in the slot and you can use the kiosk to pay off
those outstanding parking violations that have been filling your glove

It's a scenario that sounds too user-friendly to believe. But if all goes
according to schedule, this June, New Yorkers will be doing all this at 35
public computer kiosks spread throughout the five boroughs. It's part of a
yearlong, $2 million pilot project called City Access that's being assembled
under the auspices of the City Department of Information Technology and

"We're going full-fledge on this thing," said Dan Moy, manager of the kiosk
project. "We even have a slogan -- City Access, New York City at your

Known around City Hall as DoITT ("do it"), the Department has been charged
with the task of bringing New York into the 21st century. Even the chipper
go-get-'em nickname marks DoITT as a new-breed city agency.

But while New York has been the toast of the computer industry in the last
year or so for being a hotbed of Internet and high-tech creativity, City Hall
is playing catch-up when it comes to providing citizens with better access to
their government.

Last year, DoITT erected NYCLink, the City's official World Wide Web page. It
contains information about contract procurement rules, license application
information, and a directory of elected officials. But it is typical of New
York's creeping embrace of user- friendly technologies, that the "subway
navigator" hot link on the city's own home page leads to a French tourist
resource about New York's mass transit system.

Now the city's taking the plunge into the public kiosk business. The New York
program comes after successful projects in Canada and a spate of states
including Arizona, Texas, and California. In fact, Arizona's QuickCourt
judicial kiosks were awarded the 1994 Innovations in State and Local
Government Award by the Ford Foundation and the John F. Kennedy School of
Government at Harvard.

Those kiosks were built by North Communications, based in Marina del Rey,
Calif. The company's Metronet subsidiary is one of the companies chosen to
build kiosks for New York this year. Nine agencies are taking part in the City
Access project including the Department of Business Services, the Department
of Cultural Affairs, the Department for the Aging, the Housing Authority, and
the Department of Buildings.

Three companies will be building kiosks for the city. Different kiosks will
serve different functions, Moy said. Some will provide searchable access to
information about city programs, or access to the city's vast computerized
records system. Others will allow for transactions -- paying traffic
violations, paying back taxes, and the like. Still other kiosks will allow
people to apply for various city licenses from the public terminals, which
expected to incorporate touch screens, audio, color graphics, digital video,
and text.

Although the list of kiosk locations has yet to be completed, Moy said the
first kiosks will go up in places where there will be enough security to keep
them from disappearing. That means some will be in public libraries -- where
the kiosks will join Internet surfing stations that the city installed
throughout its Public Library System last year. Other kiosks will probably be
installed in city offices. The city is also negotiating with two shopping
malls for placement of kiosks.

The ultimate point of the demonstration project is to prove the value of
public terminals on a permanent basis. For the next year Metronet, the New
Jersey-based ObjectSoft Corporation, and International Data Operations, Inc.
will build kiosks and software that the city will lease. Those contracts were
doled out by invitation. But if things go well, the city will put out requests
for competitive bids to build and maintain kiosks permanently in the future.

And perhaps in the next phase, the city will link the kiosk information and
databases to the Internet, so that the same information can be accessed on
line. The current pilot program does not link the kiosks and the City's Web
page, which is slated for a redesign.

One man certain to be watching the demo project with interest will be City
Councilman Andrew Eristoff, the East Side Republican who is chairman of the
Council's Task Force on Technology in Government.

"Our purpose is to use technology as a lens to examine the disparate
functions of city government," Eristoff said. For the Councilman, greater
access to government information is a big part of that. "What I can do with my
task force is provide a forum to build support. A whole bunch of people are
wildly excited."

DIGITAL METROPOLIS is published weekly, on Mondays. Click _here_ for a list
of links to other columns in the series.

Related Sites
Following are links to external Web sites that complement this article. These
sites are not part of The New York Times on the Web, and The Times has no
control over their content or availability. When you have finished visiting
any of these sites, you will be able to return to this page by clicking on
your Web browser's "Back" button or icon until this page reappears.

_The City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications_. This
agency home page has minimal information about City Access and other projects.
_The City of New York Home Page_.
_The City Council Home Page_.
_North Communication_, one of the vendors for the City Access project, has a
home page with information about its kiosk programs in other cities.

Jason Chervokas and Tom Watson at _digimet@nytimes.com_ welcome your comments
and suggestions.