Town Square

Its Time For The City to Update The Utility Bill Format

Original post made by Bob Wenzlau, Crescent Park, on Jan 8, 2008

My wife an I are boggled each month when we read our City of Palo Alto utility bill. First our heart skips a beat at the size of the bill, and then we try to understand the bill. The Utilities Department has to address this shortcoming.

Some observations I have made include:
- The utility usage history is buried on a second page, and does a very poor job showing usage. It makes it very hard to consider any conservation.
- Current usage is the second line from the bottom of a chart on the second page -- huh? Why is this so hard to find?
- The front page is a mismash of units. It is a nice chance to figure out how to convert CCF (100 cubic feet) to Gallons Per Day, but why can't the bill do that.
- The charts and tables are poorly laid out. A user can inadvertently misread units.
- The bill misses enormous opportunities to "smartly" present conservation ideas. This is a stretch, but the city does no what the size of our lot is, and the city does know what the temperature history is. The bill could articulate water usage per square foot of lot, or water usage versus the temperature history. The bill could hypothesize savings based on relamping.

I would welcome the City surprising us. Can they do a utility bill redesign more successfully than the website redesign. Can they control the cost of redesign? Can they set the standard for other utilities with how to smartly use the utility bill information -- for us this bill is the strongest motivator for conservation.

Do other folks agree?


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Posted by Marvin
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 8, 2008 at 9:31 am

I tend to agree with you, Bob, about the format of the utility bill.
What I also find annoying is that this bill is the only one that I cannot pay online. I pay my credit cards, phone bills, cable bills online, but the bill from the utility company in the birthplace of the Silicon Valley does not have online payment yet.

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Posted by Ben W
a resident of Southgate
on Jan 8, 2008 at 9:44 am


Given the City's last experience implementing Internet-related work (the website), would you really trust them to produce a safe, easy-to-use payment system? Any credit card numbers given to the City would seem to have a high chance of ending up in the possession of some 15 year old Russian hacker.

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Posted by Anamika
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 8, 2008 at 10:20 am

Its a waste of paper. Yes, they do double sided printing - but even so, the bill can be made more comprehensive.

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Posted by Palo Parent
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 8, 2008 at 10:29 am

Yes, I agree, they should allow online banking. But they do something similar called "Automatic bank Drafting" whereby you still receive a paper copy of yor bill each month but the payment is automatically debited from your checking account each month by the CPAU. Same difference really.

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Posted by PA Utility Customer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 8, 2008 at 10:58 am

Bob Wenzlau you have more faith in our City than I do. Please don't give them the task of "improving" our Utility Bill; they will pay out hundreds of thousands of dollars for a redesign, and create a mess like our City's Website.

I agree the utility bill is outdated but like many PA residents I'm used to it and have figured it out, and dutifully mail them my check each month.

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Posted by Been There
a resident of another community
on Jan 11, 2008 at 1:12 pm

As an employee with the Palo Alto Utilities for some decades, the stale perception of expeditious and efficient solutions is from the inside.

Like an old machine that has had decades of piecemeal patchwork to fix broken parts, it's time (and less expensive) to dare to scrap the majority of dinosaur leadership (99%.

To try and interject one or two hopeful new leaders doesn't work. They get sucked up by the majority of existing poor leaders.