Published: May 11, 2015
By: Clay Falls
COLLEGE STATION - Finding convenient parking at Texas A&M can be a challenge for students, visitors and sometimes staff.
If you attended Texas A&M or visit regularly you may have received a few parking tickets along the way.
In a special report News 3's Clay Falls takes a look at Transportation Services' roles at managing more than 36,000 parking spaces and how many citations they write each year.
Texas A&M University manages one of the largest parking systems of any college in the country.
Making sure people park in the right place is a full-time job that uses both manpower and 21st century technology in ways you might not ever know are happening.
The great balancing act happens every day on the Texas A&M campus. Parking enforcement and those familiar citations on windshields.
The fine which typically runs $30 to $40 are an aggravation to many students.
"I've had a couple tickets," said Sophomore William Walton.
Just ask him.
"They give too many tickets for nonsense reasons," Walton said.
We asked him to guess how many parking citations are written in a year on campus.
"I'd probably say 400,000, 500,00, something like that," he guessed.
It's not quite that many. 52,221 were written from September '13 to August '14, generating $1,567,271.51 in revenue for Transportation Services.
That money is used for things like paying staff, traffic control for special events and garage operations and enforcement.
That includes this; two license plate recognition trucks that scan all the license plates it passes, looking for outstanding citations.
During our time in the LPR truck they were able to scan 788 license plates with one of them getting a hit.
After the computer beeps, the violators are contacted by email if they are part of the university. Depending on the circumstance, the car could be towed.
Parking Services Officer Krista Voigt has heard lots of good excuses.
"I'm sitting here I'm not parked, that's one of the funniest ones," she said.
She and her coworkers don't like being called Parking Nazis. They say they are about customer service and helping people navigate the sprawling campus.
"A lot of people come to campus and trying to maintain parking for all those people I mean it's a challenge but yet that's what we do," said James Foster, a Texas A&M Transportation Services Supervisor.
Another technology tool hiding in plain sight are these license plate recognition cameras that scan every license plate that comes inside the Rec Center Parking Lot.
If a car isn't removed after a two hour period it sends a notification to Transportation Services to come issue a ticket.
"So what it does is it forces turnover and here we are at 10:30 on a Tuesday and we have available spaces at The Rec and we even lost a bunch due to construction," explained Peter Lange, the Executive Director for Transportation Services.
Lange says all this technology makes parking on campus more orderly. Annual citations have declined by more than half since their peak of 120,000 in the early 2000's
"I would probably call it chaotic back then it was really kind of a wild wild west kind of situation," said Lange.
The problem was having color specific lots instead of lot specific parking passes. It meant more options for students, but the most popular lots essentially had more parking passes than spaces.
"We called it vulturing where students would circle the lot looking for an open space," Lange said.
With construction projects, including the renovation of Kyle Field, they've lost about 2,300 spaces on main campus but they've shifted those to West Campus.
"Overall our inventory is about the same," he said.
While William Walton doesn't like the tickets, he is glad to hear less are being written.
"I guess people learn their lessons," Walton said.
Texas A&M has been asked in the past to have a grace period for freshmen the first few weeks on campus. When they ran the data, Transportation Services found that seniors were getting the most tickets.
That still is the case this semester.
For visitors who don't pay parking citations the university can track down the registered owner through their license plate. The university also has the option to send it to a collection agency but they tell us that's something rarely practiced.
While tickets are already written electronically, Peter Lange expects they'll be able to write them with a phone app in the future.
The university does oversell the parking spaces by about 20 percent system wide, but they work to guarantee everyone will have a place to park that has a pass.