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A Day In the Life of...Ticket Terror: The Batt shadows Parking Safety officers, looks at their hazardous job

From The Battalion

By Jay Slovacek

Published: Thursday, March 3, 2005

The tan Transportation Services Tahoe rolled to a stop, and we climbed out.

Corinne Young - The Battalion; TS officer Brooke Owens is one of the many parking officers who patrols the A&M campus daily.</div>

Corinne Young - The Battalion; TS officer Brooke Owens is one of the many parking officers who patrols the A&M campus daily.

"Verbal abuse has really declined with the new system," said a cheerful T.S. employee Brooke Owens. After several years as a parking services shift leader for Transportation Services, she's worked through her share of obscenities.

The "new system," Owens said, is the change from color-coded tags to lot-specific tags. By controlling the number of tags for each lot, there is more confidence from people that there will be room for them, she explained.

While discussing the merits of the new system, we walked around the Parking Area (PA) 100H - the Student Recreation Center parking lot. Owens checked cars for permits and found several violations.

"I'm printing citations for no permit displayed," said Owens as she pulled out a Palm Pilot and entered the plate number several times.

With her wireless connection, she was able to tell that the car had several citations in the past, and printed out a ticket through the mobile printer on her waist.

"About 39 percent of the citations we give are for no permit displayed," said Pete Willis, who busily helped Owens check permits.

As the parking services enforcement manager, Willis oversees the Parking Service Officers (PSOs) and deals with the day-to-day issues of enforcement.

After going through lot 100H, we packed up and visited lot 30F between Lechner and Walton. Owens and Willis examined a car that had a Blinn parking tag hanging in front of a TAMU tag.

"You can't read that, can you?" Willis asked.

Owens managed to get the tag number by reading the back of the tag through the passenger window.

"I really don't like giving citations, so usually I try everything," Owens said.

Outside the Architecture buildings (lot 54), Owens cited a car using a night tag in the mid-afternoon. While she was writing the ticket, the owner of the car appeared. "I was only here a minute," the student pleaded.

Checking my watch, I could see we'd been in the lot for over twenty minutes, similar to this car. Owens politely explained that night parking is self-explanatory. The student began crying and stormed away. Willis and Owens sheepishly shrugged.

"We aren't trying to hand out tickets; we're trying to keep spaces open for our customers who pay for permits," Willis said.

Not all student interactions are negative. June Broughton, communications and marketing manager for Transportation Services, gathered anecdotes about interactions between students and PSOs. One story shows a student taking time to thank PSOs for their hard work, and another story recounts a kind PSO helping a student with a flat tire.

Scott Smith, senior chemical engineering major, said that the officials have a hard job that many students do not respect.

"They're working real hard," Smith said. "I think that if students put on a parking official's uniform for a day, they might appreciate their job.

The good interactions are overshadowed by scores of hostile Aggies.

"For the longest time, I had a broken cell phone on my desk that someone threw at the PSO," Willis said. "No one ever claimed it."

Other incidents involved rocks, racial epithets and one student who tried to drive over a PSO.

"Instead of discussing how to avoid the situation (towing) again, the student took it upon herself to yell and scream at me about her unpaid citations," said an anonymous PSO.

June Broughton regards those incidents as a thing of the past.

"It came down to frustration," Broughton said. "We like to say 'The hunt is over,' and we mean that. With the new system, we've really seen complaints disappear. Everyone appreciates that they know where to go park and that there will be a spot for them."

Changing the parking system was only part of the bigger changes at Transportation Services.

"Changing the system was the result of Transportation Services changing how we do business," said Rodney Weis, director of Transportation Services. "Really, parking doesn't have to be this difficult."

"I spent the last two years talking to students, talking to everyone I could find," Weis said. "You could feel the negativity in the room, but the more explanation and education about parking that I gave, students became more understanding."

Peter Lange, associate director of Information Technology services and communications, knows why attitudes have been more positive. Lange lists TS's recent accomplishments.

"We've got an online system that allows people to manage their parking," Lange said. "The Web will twice notify people with citations before the deadline, and we've changed the appeal process to be much more user-friendly. Our goal is for no one to be able to (legitimately) say 'I didn't know.'"

In the future, Lange said he is looking at more real-time updating from the PSO's Palm Pilots.

"Things like wireless access while they are in the field and cameras built into the units - things like that will contribute to our efficiency," he said.

Weis and Lange said the changes are getting the notice of other organizations.

"Our goal is to be known as the premier transportation service provider in the nation," Weis said.

Utilizing other universities, Transportation Services has worked at inspecting the services.

"Lately, we've had the University of Arizona, UT Health and the University of Arkansas come look at our methods," Lange said. "MD Anderson is coming as well."

But don't let the technology fool you into thinking you have a sense of anonymity with parking enforcement. Willis let me know that "we can cross reference a car or tag with a student's schedule and know whether that person has a class at the time of the violation."

They also remember students. Remember the female who yelled about the towing?

Willis recalled that the student didn't learn from the incident, citing "that student has been now towed approximately five times for excessive tickets."

http://www.thebatt.com/2.8488/a-day-in-the-life-of-ticket-terror-1.1201669