Parking Enforcement 101
By Bart Neu
Ask any parking operator about the key to operational control and they will tell you it is proper parking enforcement. Enforcement at some level is required in virtually any parking environment. Even when utilizing the latest technology and the best access control system available, someone, somehow, will find a way to break the rules. Left unchecked, this will become an epidemic.
The basic factors in a successful enforcement program are relatively simple, but may become complex depending on the features of the parking operation and to what level an institution is willing to punish parking violators.
Here are some of the basic factors to consider:
Proper parking enforcement is not possible unless regulatory signs are in place to notify people of the intended purpose of a parking area and the rules that apply. Without regulatory signs, an enforcement program has little ground to stand on when issuing a citation. Signs such as “No Parking” or “20-Minute Loading Only” are the easy ones to remember, but keep in mind that parking areas with or without access control equipment should be signed also, such as “Permit Parking Only” or Faculty Parking Only.”
Fines / Penalties
Fines should be set merely as a deterrent to illegal parking and should not be viewed as a revenue source. Fines also should escalate depending on the severity of the infraction. If fines are set too low, they will not discourage people from parking illegally. Common violations such as parking in a loading zone for more than the posted time limit should warrant a minimum but effective fine. More serious violations such as parking in a handicapped space should warrant a much higher fine. Those unpaid after a set period of time should have a late fee assessed (wording to this effect must be printed on the citation).
Factors that add complexity to an enforcement program are usually already in place in large university and commercial parking programs. These include use of a collection agency to help collect unpaid fines and a link to a state’s Department of Motor Vehicle records so that the registered owner of a vehicle may be tracked and notified that they have an unpaid fine.
Parking enforcement is not a job for everyone. People who write citations must be honest, have common sense, enjoy being outdoors, have the ability to work unsupervised, have excellent customer service skills and not be afraid to be yelled at several times a day. Many universities and municipalities are implementing conflict-avoidance and customer service-training programs for their parking enforcement personnel.
On campus, when an academic term begins, many new parking users don’t understand the rules and regulations. As a result, enforcement must be done regularly and aggressively for the first couple of weeks in order to educate people as to the parking rules. This may mean utilizing the help of student workers and issuing warnings rather than citations for less serious infractions such as parking without a permit.
Like anything else, as long as a plan is in place that everyone is aware of, understands and can follow, things will run smoothly. Parking enforcement procedures must encompass citation writing, issuance guidelines (what enforcement personnel can or can’t do when writing citations), appeals, voiding criteria and revenue collection. Others should be added as warranted, with the understanding that enforcement can be a very sensitive subject, not only for parking customers but also for the upper-reaches of a university’s administration. Look for all loopholes that can be closed by procedural policy.
Like it or not, there are people who ignore parking citations, have no intention of paying them, and will never be told where they can or cannot park. When you encounter one, you had better be ready. Part of this falls back on procedures and documentation, but a plan needs to be in place for dealing with a person who simply will not follow the parking rules.
For faculty and staff, establishing disciplinary policies should correct them before they ever get to bad-guy status. For others, however, limits must be set and procedures must be in place to deal with them. Usually, the limit will be a number of unpaid citations within a period of time or a total dollar amount of unpaid fines (including late fees). This information must be thoroughly documented and presented to the bad guy when you catch him or her (no loopholes).
There are two common methods for dealing with these repeat offenders: immobilizing (booting) or towing. See the sidebar for some advantages of each.
There are times when the owner of an immobilized vehicle does not contact the parking office to have the boot removed. If he or she does not make contact to have the boot removed within 48 hours, the vehicle should be towed. It also is a good idea to notify your police department when you tow a vehicle, as people often automatically assume that their car has been stolen when it is not where they left it.
Help People Learn From Their Mistakes
Most people who park at a university do so more than once. A responsible parking operator should understand that the world is not out to get them, and that people are inclined to make an occasional mistake.
With that, it’s smart to work with the philosophy of educating the parkers, rather than punishing them. First-time violators should be made aware of their mistake so that they don’t repeat it. That may mean issuing them a warning, rather than an actual citation, if the violation isn’t serious, or voiding a citation if they appeal it and understand what they did wrong. Some people, however, test the limits of an enforcement program. For this reason, it is imperative that detailed citation records be kept.
Due to the cost of a dedicated parking database and the technology associated with it, small parking programs are limited to entering citation data (date, time, location, license plate number, type of violation, etc.) on a spreadsheet. But any operation that issues more than about 20 citations per day should use handheld ticket writers that are tied into a sophisticated database that can track citations.
Handheld ticket writers also have the capability to immediately notify enforcement personnel of repeat offenders, issue warnings and citations, store occupancy information, and more. Their accompanying databases can be linked to a state’s DMV database in order to obtain vehicle owner information. They also can track citations and parking permits, and run numerous detailed reports for the benefit of parking management.
Maintaining control of a university parking operation can be tough, but with tight controls, consistent enforcement and good customer service, parking can become a positive and beneficial component to a university environment.
Bart Neu is a Senior Operational Specialist at Desman Associates. He can be reached through www.desman.com
Advantages of immobilizing:
• A booted car is easy to see and acts as a deterrent to others who may consider breaking the rules.
• As the parking operator, you have the power to remove it only after all fines have been collected.
• You gain control of the situation, and a third party (towing company) is not involved.
• Even though the bad guy will not be happy, having his or her car in sight is better than its being in some unknown impound lot. This allows them to be a bit more rational when you are dealing with them.
The advantages of towing:
• The offender’s vehicle is removed from the premises, allowing the space to be used by another vehicle.
• It sends a very strong message that violators are not tolerated.
• You need not be involved; a third party contractor can handle the problem.