Tax Collection Made Easy

MADISON, Wis. - A handful of states are starting to outsource sales-tax collection as part of multi-state effort to modernize and simplify sales tax administration. Wisconsin, Kansas, North Carolina and Michigan tested and certified a system developed by Taxware International, and they are now using it to collect sales taxes at the point of purchase.

The outsourcing pilot is part of a broader initiative to simplify sales-tax collection known as the Streamlined Sales Tax Project. "We started to plan for the pilot because we wanted to do two things: We wanted to show that states could work together, and we also wanted to test the technology model that we were proposing within the Streamlined Sales Tax Project, called the Certified Service Provider," said Diane Hardt, who co-chairs the project's steering committee.

In essence, the system is a transaction server that connects, via the Web, with a merchant's computers to automate tax collection at the time of a sale. Taxware International currently is culling its customer base for volunteers to use the new process.

"We'll test this pilot for probably six to 12 months, and, eventually, when states adopt all of the legislation that is proposed by the sales-tax simplification project, then we'll probably go to a full-fledged system and basically start with an RFP all over again," Hardt said.

She added that vendor is working with e-commerce firms that conduct business in multiple states.

"Taxware has literally gone in and had to integrate with their tax-collection systems," Hardt said. "[The firms] were using Taxware software to do their tax-calculation package, and now they're using this entire system to do their tax calculation, as well as their filing."

The outsourcing project is one facet of the Streamlined Sales Tax Project, in which 38 states are now taking part. Nineteen of those states have enacted legislation proposed by the project that will help simplify sales-tax systems.

Riding the Red Bullet

LOS ANGELES - Los Angeles County is using wireless technology to give public transit users a better idea of when their buses will arrive and to cut travel time once those riders are on board.

The county's new priority bus service, Metro Rapid, uses the area's computerized traffic signal control system to move special red-painted buses through intersections faster. The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) also developed a passenger information system that uses wireless electronic displays at bus stops to tell riders how long they will wait for the next bus.

MTA designed Metro Rapid to make riding the bus more attractive. A demonstration project implemented on two of L.A.'s most heavily traveled corridors in June 2000 reduced travel time by 25 percent and boosted bus ridership by 30 percent. MTA constructed 48 new high-tech bus kiosks along its Wilshire-Whittier and Ventura Boulevard routes for the demonstration.

The project's success stems, in part, from using the Automated Traffic Surveillance and Control (ATSAC) system operated by Los Angeles' Department of Transportation to coordinate the movement of buses throughout the county. ATSAC controls traffic lights at more than 3,000 intersections, monitors the location of Metro Rapid buses and relays arrival information to LED displays mounted at Metro Rapid bus stations.

MTA sends Metro Rapid bus schedules to the transportation department each morning. Transponders mounted on the buses document the vehicles' progress via sensors installed at intersections. Throughout the day, an ATSAC computer compares bus schedule information with the actual location of each bus.

When a bus falls behind schedule, the computer keeps the traffic signals in front of it green, allowing the vehicle to catch up. The system also calculates when the bus will reach each stop and transmits that information to bus station displays.

Kentucky Goes Wireless

LEXINGTON, Ky. - In what state officials call the first step toward