A parking-lawyer web robot that has saved British drivers nearly $4 million in fines over the past several months is now ready to help Americans, starting with New Yorkers, by appealing their tickets for free.
The bot, created by Joshua Browder, a 19-year-old British programmer who is studying computer science at Stanford University, uses a chat interface powered by machine learning to suss out the details of each user’s situation and then file an appeal. The traditional option—hiring a lawyer to handle the appeal—is prohibitively expensive. It can cost hundreds of dollars, in some cases more than it costs to pay the fine, which helps explain why New Yorkers pay more than $600 million a year in parking tickets.
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Thankfully, that equation just changed. As of this week, the robo-lawyer is available to drivers in New York City. Now, when helping with an appeal, the bot first asks whether the ticket was issued in the United Kingdom or in New York before getting more specific. (In the U.K., the bot can also file compensation claims for delayed or canceled flights or train rides.) Browder shared the news of the updated version with Fortune as an exclusive.
Having discussed his bot with lawyers in New York, Browder says they underestimate how much of a threat it is. “That’s what the U.K. lawyers did. I approached a few lawyers before I launched the site, and they were kind of dismissive, saying, ‘This could never do what we’re doing.’ And then all of a sudden it did.”
There may be no better proving ground for Browder’s bot, which he dubbed DoNotPay, than New York City. The city makes a mint on parking tickets—more than $546 million in 2014 alone. But the amount New Yorkers are actually paying is even higher, because state law tacks on a $15 surcharge to each ticket, the proceeds of which are split between the city and the state.
If Browder’s bot takes off in New York City like it has across the pond, it could cut deep into that source of city revenue. In the U.K., about 101,000 appeals have been generated so far, with a 44% success rate, meaning DoNotPay has saved motorists more than $3.8 million since launching last September.
That figure presumes the users would have paid their tickets early, which in the U.K. cuts the fine in half, Browder says. Calculated using the full amount, the total savings is more than $7.6 million.
Catherine Bamford, an ex-lawyer in Leeds who advises law firms and corporate legal departments on automation, says bots like DoNotPay have “huge potential” for the future of legal advice. “Ultimately, the law is a code which can be programmed,” she says, “and, at the very least, the first round of a person or a company obtaining the legal advice they need could be provided in this way.”
For now, Browder’s bot can’t do quite as much for New Yorkers as it does for Brits. It can fill out a New York City appeal, but it’s still up to the user to file it, whereas in the U.K. the bot can file electronically on behalf of users. Browder plans to improve the bot’s functionality for New York City residents before moving on to other U.S. cities.
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All that is holding him back, besides his studies, is a little side project—trying to apply the DoNotPay technology to U.K. asylum applications for refugees. The refugee crisis in Europe would seem to have little in common with parking tickets. But Browder sees them both as involving the exploitation of fellow human beings.
His goal with DoNotPay, he says, is “to level the playing field so that any citizen can have the same legal power as the richest people in society. Obviously it’s a long way from that, but that’s the ultimate aim.”