This Parking Enforcement Upgrade Gets an A

Published: August 31, 2006

Lori Lipinski had a problem. This resources supervisor for Saginaw Valley State University’s (SVSU) police department knew that dollars – in the form of uncollected fees from parking citations – were driving off the campus everyday.

To make matters worse, it was difficult to determine exactly how much parking revenue was lost at the rural Michigan university because running reports on the SVSU police department’s circa-1998 software system meant hours of manual data entry from paper tickets.

When the county court system, which collects past-due citation fees for the university, informed Lipinski and university parking coordinator Joyce Payne that it would no longer collect funds unless the university went paperless, it was the death knell for SVSU’s antiquated DOS-based system. Lipinski and Payne suddenly were in the market for new hardware and software to streamline their parking operation.

School Shops Around for Best Solution

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When upgrading technology, most universities start with general guidelines of what capabilities are necessary from the new system. In nontechnical terms, those parameters can generally be summarized as: make it efficient, make it cost-effective and make it idiot-proof. SVSU’s parking system upgrade was no different.

Lipinski started her search by talking to other universities – especially those that, like SVSU, operated a parking enforcement division with limited manpower. Saginaw Valley State’s only dedicated full-time professional parking staff member is Payne, who works with about a dozen student employees.

Armed with ideas and tips from her peers at other campuses, Lipinski contacted Indianapolis-based T2 Systems, which had acquired the manufacturer of SVSU’s existing system. Lipinski’s previous experience with the manufacturer had been a positive one – the hardware and software functioned well for the seven years it had been in place but needed updating.

“What we had was wonderful in 1999,” Lipinski says. “But we had to switch screens a lot to go from one program to another, and it was just slow. And we really needed to catch up on the past dues and find an easier way to do reports.”

Franklin McPherson, the manufacturer’s account manager, supplied Lipinski with information on the company’s latest product, as well as information about why the change was necessary and future benefits that could be realized by upgrading. Lipinski used that information to aid her when developing her proposal to explain the upgrade to university administrators.

Lipinski’s proposal highlighted speedy report generation, faster data transfer to and from handheld field units, paperless back-office tracking, easy upgrades and readily available tech support, among other key attributes. The proposal was OK’d by administrators and, in March of last year after about a week of staff training, the university went live with the new system.

Upgraded System Reduces Human Error

The new system immediately revolutionized the way Lipinski, Payne and their staff conducted business. Using two handheld devices with color screens, personnel in the field who were previously limited to only writing citations had access to volumes of information on each vehicle’s status. How many warnings has this vehicle been given? Are there outstanding citations? If so, how many? How much does the owner currently owe the university? Should this vehicle be impounded? All were questions that could now be answered in the field.

“The manual role where personnel are limited to writing paper tickets without a device that offers ready access to that type of data is a very problematic situation,” says T2 product manager Brian Paison. “There is a huge amount of room for human error.”

While campuses with manual systems can load up in-field personnel with tow list printouts, Paison questions the likelihood that those lists will be accurately and consistently scanned for offenders in the field.

“Parking officers in the field at many universities are student employees,” Paison says. “This is someone who’s making a couple dollars to pay their way through school, and it seems unlikely that they are going to dive into a printed list every time they encounter a vehicle in violation to make sure that it’s not on a boot or tow list or requires some specific additional action.”

The new handhelds automated SVSU’s list-check process, eliminating human error and enabling in-field personnel to do their jobs more efficiently.

But perhaps the biggest benefit of the new system – “where the rubber hits the road,” according to Paison – came to those back in the office. “In the field, you’re either writing citations and delivering data, or you’re receiving data back that’s used in the field, but there’s little processing done in the field,” he says. “So when it comes to where we actually create some value, it is in the back office when it is time to collect on those citations.”

For example, if an individual comes into the SVSU police department office to dispute a citation, a representative can quickly and easily access all of the relevant information (including citation and impound records) for all vehicles registered to that person.

The access to data allows reminder and notification letters to be sent from the SVSU back office without the need to glean information from a paper ticket. And perhaps most importantly, the paperless system allowed the university’s collections relationship with the county court to continue uninterrupted.

Solution Can Streamline Parking Permit Process

The upgraded system has several other capabilities that SVSU can opt to use in the future, including what Paison calls “E-business solutions.”

“There’s no reason in today’s world why a university student who goes online to register for classes, selects a dorm room and pays for meals shouldn’t be able to also go online and reserve a parking permit or pay for a parking citation,” he says. “The system is perfectly capable of that, which can be a great benefit if you’ve got a large school that has thousands of people who need to get a parking permit at the beginning of the school year. Having all of them stand in line to get a permit is absolutely unnecessary today.” Online permitting not only eliminates lines and hassles for students but also reduces overtime for staff who would have to be in the office to process the start-of-school rush.

The system can also link to Department of Motor Vehicles’ records in 41 of 50 U.S. states allowing for universities to locate a vehicle’s missing registration information.

With regards to security, T2’s system can attach an emergency note or VIP notice to a vehicle license plate number. If a parking officer encounters that vehicle, the note will automatically be displayed so parking personnel can take appropriate action.

The new handheld hardware also allows personnel in the field to take images of the vehicle on which they are writing a citation. The images are automatically attached to and stored with the citation record. In the event a violator decides to appeal a citation, the images can provide compelling visual evidence of a violation.

For now, however, Lipinski and the SVSU parking staff are simply happy that the system provides a more efficient, effective way to do their jobs as the university continues to grow. “We have a much higher collection percentage now because there is greater accountability and accuracy in our process, and that is all because of the new system,” Lipinski says. SVSU now collects on about 75 percent of its citations, according to T2 Systems.

Tom Nelson is a contributor to Campus Safety.

For the complete version of this article, please refer to the September/October 2006 issue of Campus Safety Magazine.

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