Using the Old with the New


Using the Old with the New


Lesley Curry

My first introduction to parking enforcement was training with a 30+ year “meter maid.” I’ll never forget the day she came in from her shift saying “I was called B**** seventy-two times today.” She was a stoic employee with an artist’s soul. She did her job very well, but she wasn’t immune to the verbal berating. 


In the years since, I, too, have had my share of unhappy customers who want to express their opinion about me, to me, and usually in earshot of everyone within our vicinity. Take this opinion of parking and then add in change of processes and increased costs. Not always a popular formula.


California State University, Chico sits in the heart of the city, adjacent to the downtown district. It’s only a few blocks away from eateries, shopping, event locations, residential homes, and elementary/secondary schools. On a daily basis our limited supply of campus general parking is heavily impacted by students, employees, guests, and the community. 


The campus has grown from coin operated slide dispensers, like a laundromat washing machine, to paying for parking on a smart phone app. Just prior to implementing the app we still had thirteen digital permit dispensers for hourly and daily parking. These were straightforward pay and display, and easy to use. 


Our in-house tech services were able to program and often make some repairs to the machines as needed. There was even a day I personally fixed one of the dispensers with a plastic box of pencil leads. The box fit perfectly next to a loose circuit board, holding it in place until, years later, the machine was removed. Thank you, MacGyver. 


The move to digital permitting started slowly with a test run in two parking lots, eventually moving campus wide for all student permits and hourly parking. To this day, we still have three permit dispensers which remain popular only because not everyone wants to use their cell phones. For some, I think, a dispenser still resembles the familiarity of a parking meter. 


Options to accommodate customer comfort? Well, technology is not everyone’s cup of tea. So many options, so many versions, so much information to share each semester. Technology changes go hand in hand with messaging. 


How do we establish and maintain good messaging for a changing campus population? Not only changing from semester to semester but, new students, new visitors and new employees who may not have received any messaging by the time they try parking for the first time. 


Technology changes. And, how it affects parking is unavoidable. But what good is the process if your customer base doesn’t know what they are supposed to do? Signage and messaging are huge parts of that technology package. Communication. Communication. Communication. 


Although an obvious project, it takes a long time and a lot of money to update signage for an entire campus. Yet it is such a vital part of customer service, and often a challenge to make any forward progress happen in a timely manner. My goal is to focus on better verbiage, branding, and larger signs in fewer locations.


Phase 1: 

Sign placement and wording. The first part of our project was posting signs for the parking structures. These signs would be placed in visible locations such as at each entrance, tops of ramps, bends in levels, tops of the structures, etc. 

As vehicles progress up the structure, which also corresponds with many of the ped ways towards stairs, the signs are simple, in large print, and indicate from bottom to top what level it is and what type of permit is required. As the driver goes up, the level on the sign changes to match the permit requirement. It repeats itself. This may seem obvious enough but it is not something we have had before. 


Phase 2: 

Master signs. The goal is to declutter and make regulations clear at one source point, and also to clearly identify the location as a campus parking lot. Currently, there are, at minimum, 3-4 signs at the entrance to most of our parking lots and structures. 

However, at a glance there is nothing obvious that indicates a lot belongs to the campus. This brings up branding. The base sign at each of the lots has the name of the lot, but that may mean nothing to someone visiting our campus for the first time. Remember, the campus is surrounded by city streets and a busy downtown. It is important for guests who are directed to park on campus to be able to identify that they are actually in a campus university lot. 

This branding also helps match up with the visual identity and wayfinding on the campus interactive online map. The new master signs would include campus colors, the campus seal, and combine most of the messaging from the other small signs that are currently crowding and confusing visitors. 


Phase 3: 

Permit specific signs. Weather, vandalism, sticker corrections, changing permit processes, branding – all of these factors play a role in replacing the permit required signs located within the campus parking lots. A majority of the surface lots have permit signage posted in the parking areas. 

These signs clarify permit type and specific hours of enforcement, repeating verbiage found on the master sign at the entrance of the lot. Our vision is to replace these signs with larger signs, in new areas. The hope is this will put the signs in a clearer line of sight for parkers instead of smaller signs that can possibly be blocked by oversized vehicles.

We ask our customer base to adapt to the changes we put in place. We need to take responsibility for these changes and make every effort to get the word out. Signage is often the first and only thing a parker can reference. Simple signage, familiar, visible, and extremely important. 


Lesley Curry is Community Service Specialist for California State University, Chico and can be reached at

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Lesley Curry, California State University, Chico
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