Making the Grade
Like a small city, campuses nationwide adequate space for cars is necessary
- By Stephan Kaiser
- August 01, 2020
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.