Chariot charged: Transportation Services boosts operations with electric ‘green’ tech

From The Battalion

By Robby Smith & Trevor Stevens

Published: Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Roger Zhang -- THE BATTALION

Clad in helmets, gray shirts and neon vests, parking patrolmen whiz by walking students on their high-tech T3 Electric Standup Vehicles. The three-wheeled “chariots” are one of several new technologies Transportation Services has added to “more efficiently” manage parking- and transportation-related issues at Texas A&M University.

“We continue to look for the newest technology in order to communicate and conduct business with our customers in the easiest and most efficient ways for them,” said June Broughton, marketing manager for Transportation Services.

Broughton said Transportation Services focuses on including “green initiatives” into the budgetary process. She said the enforcement team utilizes the all-electric, three-wheeled chariots in order to move about campus and remote lots quicker and more efficiently.

The electric operation of the T3 is estimated to be equivalent to more than 500 mpg of gasoline.

“Walking was the method most of those who are using the T3s had,” said Pete Willis, Transportation Services parking services manager. “[But] our enforcement team continues to use scooters, walking and bicycles, as well.”

Students are aware that the T3 is more environmentally friendly than the gasoline powered scooters, but some are not supportive of how Transportation Services, which is partially supported by tickets and student fees, is spending its funds.

Brenton Stamper, senior biological and agricultural engineering major, said both scooters and T3s will have a carbon footprint, so in the end, there is still going to be an effect on the environment.

“[The T3s] kind of remind me of ‘The Jetsons’ in real life. I feel like there may be more efficient ways to spend that much money when trying to be ‘green’ as opposed to getting the newest, most improved ways of transportation,” said junior communication major Amy Carthel. “Yeah, they look cool, but what does it do? I feel like if you were willing to be parking police, then you should be willing to ride a bike.”

Martin Reyna, senior mechanical engineering major, agrees with Carthel.

“I think they are unnecessary if you require those in the job position of parking police to ride bikes,” Reyna said. “For example, the U.S. Postal Service still has people walking door-to-door delivering mail as part of some jobs’ requirement. So, I don’t think it is excessive to ask parking police to ride bicycles.”

Reyna said it is a way to show off unnecessary eco-friendliness.

“I think when they looked at the problem, they came up with an unnecessarily exaggerated solution,” Reyna said. “There is a more elegant solution.”

Transportation Services started phasing T3s into its enforcement system in November. As Transportation Services introduces more T3s at the beginning of its next budget year, more gasoline scooters will be replaced. Willis said fewer scooters will reduce carbon emissions as well as response time to complaints.

Broughton said three additional T3s, at more than $9,000 apiece, have been ordered.

Transportation Services has three main sources of revenue from parking-related funds. Parking permits are the largest, followed by visitor parking and then violations.

“Violations represent only 10 percent of our total parking budget,” Broughton said. “The chariots were budgeted from our overall parking budget.”

Though Broughton said T3 riders are able to cover the campus more effectively, visit parking areas more often, respond to calls for service quicker, the T3s have not resulted in more tickets.

“I don’t necessarily give out more tickets, but the T3 lets me cover my area more quickly,” said Mark Fangue, senior sociology major and T3 rider.

There were 62,835 citations written in 2011, which was a decrease of about 2,500 citations from the previous year.

“In the last 10 years, the total number of citations written has decreased by about 20 percent,” Broughton said. “I mainly attribute that to the ease of obtaining a parking permit, expanded visitor parking options and the lot specific parking system.”

T3s don’t require a specific license to operate, leaving employees satisfied.

Students have mixed ideas on the expenditures associated with this technology.

“It shows me how lazy the parking people are. Why can’t they walk or bike to a certain place? They could be saving a lot more money just riding bikes, instead of spending nine grand on an electric vehicle,” Stamper said. “It’s not that I don’t like the parking people, but it’s just that I am not sure this is necessary.”

About Transportation Services

Transportation Services in an auxiliary and is financially self-supported.

“Parking income comes from permit sales, visitor parking fees, parking tickets and charges associated with managing special events,” Broughton said. “We receive no funding from tuition, university or state revenue.”

Transportation Services also collects a transportation fee billed to students. The fee for the spring 2012 semester was $70.

Broughton said additionally they collect charter fees. Both fees support the transit side of business.

“We have ensured sound financial planning and projecting expenses so we can confidently commit that there will be no increase in permit prices for the 2012 academic year,” Broughton said.

Transportation Services offers various transportation services to students, faculty and staff on and off campus.

“We have introduced car sharing, bike leasing and borrow-a-bike this year in order to provide even more transportation choices,” Broughton said.

Transportation Services provides fare-free shuttle service throughout the campus community. Those who use the off-campus transit system may be required to present a valid Texas A&M ID for access.

“Although we are one of the largest university parking operations in the nation with the greatest number of parking spaces, parking is just one part of the business we manage,” Broughton said.

How is University Police Department related?

Texas A&M University Police Department is not responsible for parking enforcement on the Texas A&M University campus. However, UPD does have the authority to issue traffic citations that are a violation of Texas state law.

While UPD and Transportation Services deal with students and vehicles, the responsibilities of the two entities are separate and distinct.

“UPD is responsible for providing law enforcement and security services to all components of Texas A&M University including the academic campus and a variety of satellite facilities throughout Brazos County,” Lt. Allan Baron said. “We give service, information and aid to all citizens as circumstances require, prevent crime, enforce laws of the state of Texas and rules and regulations of Texas A&M University, investigate criminal offenses, arrest offenders and investigate traffic accidents.”

UPD also utilizes newer, more efficient technology.

Baron said UPD patrol vehicles are equipped with in-car digital camera systems, Mobile Data Terminals and LED emergency lights, among other equipment.

“Due to the amount of electronic equipment in the vehicle, the vehicles are equipped with solar panels to keep the vehicle batteries charged,” Baron said.