By Allen Reed
Published: September 29, 2013
Texas A&M has started using license plate readers more often to help enforce parking regulations and is flirting with the idea of employing the newer technology to replace parking tags, a practice other universities are using to save money.
Peter Lange, A&M's executive director for transportation services, said the university has used the readers for two years to enforce parking, but started using the white rectangular readers full time at the Student Recreation Center last spring. He said there are no current plans to utilize the readers further, but that A&M officials are always watching the latest trends.
The readers on the trucks scan back and front license plates while the vehicle patrols the lots, said parking services manager Pete Willis. If a vehicle has three or more unpaid tickets, $100 or more in outstanding violations or violations more than 90 days old, it will likely get towed, he said. Willis said the trucks are used in addition to the traditional hand scanners.
Lange said it costs about $40,000 to equip each truck with the hardware and software.
At any given point, there are about 15 parking officers policing 36,000 spaces, Lange said.
The university rolled out the same technology at the rec center in the spring to help cut down on congestion complaints, Lange said. The rec center parking lot has a two-hour time limit, but Lange said some students would leave their cars there and go to class. The university used to chalk the tires of the vehicles to see how long they had been in the lot, but Lange said the scanners provide an easier way that uses less manpower and are more efficient.
All visitors to the lot have their front and back license plates scanned, and if the outbound scanners don't register the vehicle leaving within two hours, parking is notified. Lange said it has cut down on the number of people who leave their cars at the rec center, and the number of complaints by students who can't find parking there.
"It did what we wanted it to do," Lange said.
Texas Tech University and the University of Maryland use the technology in lieu of tags, and Lange said university administrators have brainstormed on the idea of going permit-less at Texas A&M. He said the technology could save A&M money in the long run but that there are a few hurdles to figure out first. He said the number of entrances and exits to A&M make permanently mounted scanners problematic and that using truck-mounted scanners to police the entire campus would take a lot of money to equip and potentially could cause problems during game days or other events when parking lot use fluctuates.
"I don't think it couldn't be overcome," Lange said. "I think, 10 years from now, the new norm will be permit-less and the minority will have a hang tag … It may take a few years to recoup the costs, but over time you could certainly calculate a return on investment."
If parking services ever wanted to move toward a permit-less system, Lange said he would solicit the support of the student senate, the university administration and the A&M transportation services advisory committee.
Lange said he understands that many people have privacy concerns when it comes to license-scanning technology, but said that Texas A&M purges its database every month. However, the picture of the plate stays in the system if it is of a violation, he said. The picture is purged after the ticket is paid, he said.
"There's no need for us to have the data unless we issue you a citation," Lange said.