Support, Staffing, Relationships Focus for This Parking Manager
September, 2009Editor’s note: Cindy Campbell has been getting a lot of ink lately and rightly so. She is the incoming Chair of the International Parking Institute, has a very successful parking program at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and is becoming the public “face” of the public parking industry. In preparation for this issue on Campus Parking, PT traveled to her Central California campus in late July and prepared this interview. We also have the interview “live” on our web site, www.parkingtoday.com. Be sure to log on and see and hear Cindy in her interview with JVH.
"The relationship between staff, faculty and the parking program is sometimes contentious. We are here as their peers and must see them as a large part of our customer base.”
Cindy Campbell is Associate Director of the University Police Department at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, CA. She is in charge of the parking program. PT began to ask a question about the relationship between her department and the staff but then thought better of it. She felt it was a legitimate question and began her answer with the line above.
“It’s important that we are willing to work with the staff and faculty just as any other customer. Often the parking department isn’t considered a major player in the planning that goes on at a university. It’s important that we are at the table, even if we aren’t a voting member of the team.
“Staffing is a major issue. It is difficult to justify internal staff. It’s difficult to justify the need to hire someone to run an IT section or provide customer service specific to parking; however, adding enforcement is easy to justify. They provide revenue. Our staff is involved in service, follow-up, quality control, collections and tech support.
“Although we have a number of permanent staff, many of our employees are students. The problem there? Turnover. They are bright, learn quickly, and are good workers. But just about the time you get them at 100%, they graduate or their schedules change and they leave. We are in a constant training mode.”
Campbell is proud of her university. She gives a tour of the residence halls with their related parking structures. “More than 2700 people live in this complex. It’s like a small city with a market, post office, coffee house and two restaurants. Of course, it also has parking. More than 1,800 spaces between the two structures.”
The Cal Poly campus is eclectic. It doesn’t look like the traditional “ivy-covered halls.” The buildings look more like the subjects that are taught in them. Engineering has sharp lines and lots of steel and glass. Fine Arts is soft lines, fountains and trees. This was originally an agricultural campus, but now is also renowned for its engineering and architecture.
“I wanted to make some changes to one of the entries into campus,” Campbell told PT. “We had a great design with new roads, landscaping and customer service buildings. Now may not be the time. We have a furlough program going – all of us are off two days a month. Not the time to be spending roadway improvement money.”
Campbell came to Cal Poly from the San Luis Obispo Police Department. She was originally a dispatcher when one of the lieutenants asked her if she would like to help with the parking program. “The rest is history.”
“In some schools, parking is independent from law enforcement. My boss here is the chief of police. It’s rare that law enforcement, either on-campus or in a city, looks at parking as an asset. Often they miss the fact that parking isn’t simply enforcement but is a service as well.
“We are able to get the police more involved, showing them that the parking officers can go a long way to making our campus safer. At first, it was difficult to show the sworn police staff that parking deserves respect. We have made a great deal of headway by having a sworn police sergeant supervise the parking services and events management sections. He is constantly finding ways to integrate services with sworn and non-sworn personnel. This is a position that rotates so all of our sergeants get an opportunity to work parking. I enjoy showing them that we are a service business.
“My goal? Provide support to the other functions of the university. We are not a business in and of ourselves, but we are self-sustaining. The money? Permits and fines. We are a parking and transportation department, all about biking, telecommuting, buses, ridesharing and parking. Over 7,000 students live on campus. But we have a daily population of over 30,000.
“Accepting credit cards for fees and fines used to be an issue. As a service business, parking wanted to take anything and everything. Make it convenient. The easier we can make it for our customers, the better job we will do.
“What has made the biggest difference? Technology. We have an extensive online permit- and citation-management system. ... This system has turned customer service completely around. We can provide permits online, customers can track their citations, and in a few weeks will be able to challenge and adjudicate their offenses on the ‘net. It takes a tremendous load off our in-house staff and, frankly, most students and staff would rather deal with us online than stand in line.
“Professionalism. That is what I am seeing in our department. The California State University system requires that of our agency. It can be difficult. There is no “POST” (peace officer standards and training program) for parking services staff. We have to train, set up procedures and set benchmarks ourselves. And we have done so.
“I am fortunate to have the support of my administration so I can use all the resources of the California Public Parking Association and the IPI, where I can network and find solutions. Often it’s just comforting to get on the C-parkL list and see that others have the same problems I have. But sometimes I can offer a solution.”
Contact Cindy Campbell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PT Blog is put in its place
Cindy Campbell had a bone to pick with PT’s blog. A Cal Poly student wrote an article complaining that the school charged for parking when the lots were empty in the summer. PT agreed that a market-based approach might be appropriate.
“We do have a market-based approach,” Campbell said. “It just fits in with our goals. We are trying to reduce the number of cars on campus. We do that by raising fees. In the summer, we need to close certain lots and garages for maintenance. We set the fees so those on campus will think a bit before they drive.
“We have a myriad of programs to get staff, faculty and students to and from the campus. If you look at the list, parking is last. We think we have a better environment if we reduce the number of vehicles. Do we want to drive them all away? Of course not. But by offering less expensive and convenient alternatives, we work toward our overall goal of a less congested, more open campus.”
How the cookie crumbles
“We have a program where a police officer and a parking officer observe an intersection,” Cindy Campbell said. “When they see a bike rider obeying the rules, they call them over, thank them for their good citizenship, and give them a certificate worth a free meal at a local snack bar, plus give them a giant cookie.
“This has made a huge difference in the relationship between the students and the enforcement staff. We are talking to them when the situation is not argumentative. Most people see enforcement only when they are on the receiving end of a citation.”