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Iowa State leads universities in collecting campus parking fines

Diane Heldt,  CR Gazette –

Parking-rule violators at Iowa State University tend to pay larger fines for their infractions than at the other two state universities, which results in ISU collecting double the parking ticket revenue.

ISU and the University of Northern Iowa generated more money from parking fines last year than did the University of Iowa, and for ISU it was double the UI’s ticket revenue.

Parking officials at the three state universities say the differences are in part because of varied ticket fines at each institution. One of the most common violations — an expired meter — is $10 at ISU and UNI but $5 or $7 at the UI, for example.

Parking tickets generated just more than $1 million at ISU in fiscal 2011, compared with $533,536 at UNI and $455,560 at the UI.

Ticket revenue decreased every year for the past five at the UI, while tickets issued dropped from 2007 to 2010 before a rebound in 2011. That decreasing trend is not mirrored as steadily at ISU and it was the reverse at UNI, where ticket revenue and citations issued have increased since 2007.

At the UI, tickets written have dropped in part because parking staff are shifting to focus more on a new motorist assistance program, which includes jump-starting vehicles and helping people find their cars in big ramps, and traffic control in busy lots or at events, said Jim Sayre, UI associate director of parking and transportation.

Right now, UI parking has someone at UI Hospitals and Clinics every day, for example, to help direct parking issues with ongoing construction, Sayre said.

“That’s a relatively new program over the last couple of years, and it’s slowly taking more and more time away from writing parking tickets,” he said. “We’re doing that because we’re able to do that. There’s fewer people parking illegally, so our folks are being redirected and starting to do other things.”

The UI also over the years has implemented more gate-restricted surface lots, so fewer tickets are written because people need a pass for access, he said.

The parking divisions at the three universities are self-supporting entities, meaning money collected from parking tickets, ramp fees and permit sales goes back into operating budgets to help pay salaries, department costs and maintenance. Personnel costs and snow removal are the largest expenses for the departments, where staff patrol about 16,000 spaces at the UI, 15,000 at ISU and nearly 9,000 at UNI.

Raising parking fines tends to have the immediate effect of decreasing the number of tickets written and revenue generated, said Mark Miller, manager of the Department of Public Safety parking division at ISU. ISU saw that after increasing fines in July 2009, he said. Citations and revenue both dropped noticeably from 2009 to 2010, but then increased slightly from 2010 to 2011. When fines are raised, people are more compliant at first, Miller said, but often they get used to the higher fines and start violating parking rules more.

The five areas where fines were raised at ISU in 2009 were meters, prepay spots, unauthorized parking, counterfeit permits and illegal parking, which means parking in an area that is not a parking spot.

“Sometimes we just have to figure out that $15 isn’t enough to deter people from illegally parking, so we raised it to $30,” Miller said. “You see the trend every few years where people say ‘this isn’t that bad, I’ll park


Fines are typically raised at ISU every three to four years and are approved by the campus transportation advisory committee that includes faculty, staff and students, Miller said.

ISU also has worked to provide other options for parkers, such as adding meters and prepay spots that don’t require people to dig for change for a meter, he said.

At UNI, a new Multi-Modal Transportation Center opened in fall 2009 increased the number of campus parking stalls, which likely contributed to the increase in tickets written and revenue generated, said Ann Kjeld, a supervisor in UNI’s parking department. Also, student employees who patrol lots from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m., providing an extra presence and escorting students to their cars, have in recent years been helping to write tickets as time allows, Kjeld said.

Technology is helping parking staff issue “smarter” tickets and also helping violators pay or appeal their tickets online, officials at the universities said.

The UI has a new parking management system that gives them the ability to issue warnings, so every vehicle gets at least one warning before getting a ticket with a fine, excluding some violations like disability parking spots and fire lanes, Sayre said.

ISU uses frequent emails to remind students when they need to move their cars to avoid being towed, and they use their database of license plates and information to call people parked illegally so they will get a ticket but not get towed, Miller said. They’ve also gone paperless with the permit-granting and ticket appeals processes.

“We’re trying to write better tickets, be more efficient,” ISU’s Miller said. “We’d rather have 95 percent of 70,000 tickets than 80 percent of 100,000 tickets.”

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