Making the Grade

Like a small city, campuses nationwide adequate space for cars is necessary

Today’s college and university campuses are more like small cities than closed communities. Spread over large areas, these campuses serve tens of thousands of students, most of whom live off-campus. To meet the commuting needs of their faculty, staff and students, many colleges and universities provide thousands of parking spaces across multiple campus lots.

Traditionally, these parking lots were regarded as a simple necessity. Increasingly, however, as colleges and universities look to modernize their campuses, they are rethinking their approach to parking and asking how they can get more from the parking management systems they deploy.

Parking systems generally involve relating a permit or ticket to a vehicle in a lot. How this happens and what information can be derived from this depends on the type of system in place. In some cases, the system can be cumbersome and inefficient while, in others, it can increase security and operational efficiency as well as improve customer experience.

No one type of system is best suited to all environments. What works for on-street parking may not work for lots, and what works for an airport won’t necessarily work for a college or university. What’s important is understanding the parking space management goals and needs of your campus and finding a solution that helps with both.

In recent years, we’ve seen a growing number of college and university campuses turn to license plate-enabled parking (LEP) systems using automatic license plate recognition (ALPR) solutions and achieve positive results in operational efficiency, security, intelligence and customer experience.

The Impact of ALPR Technology on Administrative Tasks

For colleges and universities, issuing permits is a key component of their parking management strategy. These can include both long and short-term options. Traditional permit management systems involved issuing physical permits and relied on manual identification for parking enforcement.

At the beginning of each semester, students have to register for a parking permit. The tasks associated with applying for, verifying and printing permits were cumbersome and caused administrative backlogs at the beginning of every term.

With an ALPR system, students can apply for their permits online using their license plate numbers. Some campuses also allow visitors to apply for their permits online. This streamlines the process and significantly reduces administrative costs.

Monroe Community College (MCC) in New York State has 5,500 parking spaces spread across 20 campus lots. The college recently implemented an ALPR system that allowed them to move away from physical permits. Now, using online permit registration, the college saves $18,000 a year because they no longer print and issue physical permits.

Why Go Gateless?

In addition to moving away from physical permits, some campuses also choose gateless or frictionless solutions. These solutions give parking managers insight into who is parking in their facilities and for how long, as well as information on frequency and turn-over. This enables campuses to better manage their facilities.

At the same time, those parking on campus also benefit from a gateless system. Students and faculty members have a seamless experience when they don’t have to stop to grab a ticket or wait for a gate to rise. They simply proceed directly to a parking spot and, from there, to class on time.

Keep track. Stay safe.

With an LEP system, a college or university places LPR cameras at lot entrances and exits and is then able to use the data collected to alert security staff about unwanted vehicles on campus. Once the LPR camera reads a vehicle’s plate, the ALPR system then automatically compares that read with hotlists of people who have been banned from campus and scofflaw lists of vehicles that are of interest to law enforcement.

MCC recently equipped one parking enforcement vehicle with a mobile LPR camera for the specific purpose of identifying scofflaws. As a result, they were able to realize a 750 percent increase in scofflaw- identification over their previous, manual identification process.

Additionally, the information collected through the ALPR system can be used during forensic investigations. Because security staff have a record of the arrival and departure of vehicles on campus, they can associate that information with incidents. When the ALPR system is unified with a security platform that includes other data streams, the system can correlate video and access control information together with license plate reads to provide an even greater understanding.

During a string of burglaries at Brigham Young University (BYU) in Utah, campus security used ALPR data to search for a pattern in vehicles parked near the crime scenes. The vehicle belonging to the thief was identified and tagged in the system for monitoring purposes. When it showed up on campus again, the ALPR system alerted staff. Local law enforcement was then contacted, and the suspect was apprehended.

Covering 10 Times More Ground

Moving to LEP systems that use ALPR helps enforcement staff improve their efficiency and cover more ground. In the past, parking enforcement officers would walk through parking lots to visually ensure that the proper permits were displayed in each vehicle. This process was time-consuming and prone to human error. On some campuses, officers were also responsible for identifying vehicles with unpaid fines, a task that was extremely difficult to do.

Placing an LPR camera on an enforcement vehicle speeds up the parking enforcement process and greatly increases accuracy. The camera scans the surrounding plates and alerts the officers to any vehicle that is unauthorized or has exceeded its allowable time. For example, at BYU, parking enforcement vehicles mounted with mobile LPR cameras can cycle through the campus’ 60 parking lots several times each day.

A Faster Way to ROI

Additionally, with LPR cameras at parking lot entrances, the system itself can identify vehicles without permits or unpaid fines when they enter. This provides the operations center with real-time information about how many violators are in any given lot at any given time. With this knowledge, they can then direct enforcement officers to prioritize the lots that have a higher number of violations rather than follow a route based on proximity and location. At MCC, the college implemented its ALPR system, in part, to help recoup unpaid parking fines. The result was that they saw an ROI in 6 weeks rather than in the predicted 6 months.

But, for most colleges and universities, recouping unpaid parking fines is not the main financial benefit of implementing an LEP system. Real revenue generation comes from improved parking compliance. Because of how accurate LEP system are and how frequently personnel are able to scan each parking lot, students, faculty, staff, and visitors are more likely to pay for a parking permit rather than face steep fines. Learning from the Parking Systems

Beyond improved efficiency and revenue generation, parking compliance can also be used as an effective tool to help change behavior. For example, through parking policy and pricing, a campus can encourage faculty and students to use ride-share or take public transportation. If permit prices are too low, everyone drives to campus. If they’re too high, no one does. But, if they are appropriately priced and properly enforced, parking policies can have a positive impact on the environment.

To determine the best price point, campuses have to understand how people are using their lots. And the best way to gain this knowledge is through the information being collected in an ALPR system.

With increased understanding, colleges and universities can also provide a better customer experience through improved service. In some cases, a campus might not want first-year undergraduates parking in lots that are at a significant distance from the main buildings. The best way to determine what is happening and then change policy to facilitate safer parking is understanding — through the campus’ permit and enforcement activities — which vehicles are parking in what lots.

The University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, implemented an ALPR system that provides them with real-time lot counts. Working with the data collected in its system, the university has been able to improve overall parking services and effectively direct traffic to dedicated parkades during events. This means that, even when the number of vehicles on campuses increases dramatically, UBC is still able to move traffic efficiently and get visitors too venues on time.

Ultimately, colleges or universities have to implement the parking system that allows them to best serve and support their community. Understanding the potential for an ALPR system to improve efficiency, security, and intelligence helps campuses modernize their operations and effectively protect their faculty, staff and students both now and in the future.

This article originally appeared in the July August 2020 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.

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