Palomar College a Leader in 21st Century Parking
Like all great ideas on a higher education campus, this one came from my President/Superintendent Dr. Joi Lin Blake. She saw lines at our cashier’s office wrapping around buildings the first weeks of our fall semester. Palomar College in San Marcos, California (student population 30,000) was not unlike many campuses across the country. Students stood in line to pay for a physical parking permit to hang on their rearview mirror. Sound familiar, like when you went to college in 1989?
My president inspired me to seek an adaptive solution. My peer in admissions, Dr. Kendyl Magnuson, mentioned another institution that transitioned to digital parking permit platform. He said the lines went away “overnight”. I began to educate myself on the available systems and best practices from neighboring colleges.
The transition to digital parking, in the long run, is a cost saving measure.
California State San Marcos would be moving to the technology in Summer 2018 with an in-house system. Napa Valley College converted their daily permit machines and “hangers” to a digital system in Summer 2017 and were very helpful in my questions as a parking novice. They were the first to implement Credential Solutions Parking Plus system.
Through our participatory governance structure, our idea was shared with students, faculty, staff, administration, internally within the police department, and eventually to our Governing Board for approval in May of 2018. It required an increase in the student permit rate from $40.00 per semester to $46.00.
This increase was sought by a partnership with the college’s Associated Student Government board. Although the increase was 15 percent for students, they saw the convenience of reducing lines and the availability of a 24-hour platform to purchase and receive permits.
I shared a story of a student leaving her job in downtown San Diego, driving to campus for a 6 pm class and trying to get to the cashier’s office somewhere in between to buy a permit. The story was reflective of hundreds in the student population.
Our project was delayed nearly a year, as I educated myself on the bid and purchasing process and awaited funding. We postponed the fee increase until the adoption of the system in June 2019, reinforcing our pledge to the students that the fee was for a process improvement.
One of the key points to our success was engaging our youthful workforce. As a campus police department, we employ dozens of student workers age 18-25. As they looked at their own phones (Gen X Humor), I asked them to be members of an implementation team. Our parking coordinator, Candy Santos, knew the parking internal systems and our customer base within and outside the college. She and Shelley Munoz handled the face forward and day-to-day aspects of customer interaction.
Lead Community Service Officer Dominic LaPorta and Interim Lead CSO Jarod Cain would serve as team leaders for the enforcement aspect and LPR installation. It was critical to have “backups” to each of these positions as 75 percent of the team members served as part-time employees.
Once the contract was awarded, relationships were started with Credential Solutions (Dan Gajos) and ParkMobile via email and in-person visits from customer service representatives. The transition was rapid, with daily exchanges of emails and responses for data and maps met with complimentary responses from our vendors.
As the date neared, we accelerated our communication with our cashier’s manager Cassandra Stone and the representative from information services, Tom Rowland. They collaborated on creating the mergers with our in-house and external systems so they could “talk to each other”. I still don’t understand some of the words used in our meetings, yet thankfully, they were each masters of their craft. As our journey continued, additional users and groups were identified and processes cemented.
With each stage in the transition, I was reminded of our goal of serving the students. I was confident this technology would relieve the stress of the first weeks of each semester and it was in a medium they would understand because it was application based and online. This became ever apparent as the 1 percent questions were presented from our various groups. While I validated the thought or concern, it was important to realize the great majority of the student population would become immediate users and, hopefully, approvers.
Our media campaign involved our social media pages, human marketing, signage on campus, emails to students and instructions on our internal portal.
The transition to digital parking, in the long run, is a cost saving measure. We saved on labor hours of physical mailings, postage and continual usage of our physical parking permit machines, as well as in-person transactions. For our Rancho Bernardo and Fallbrook campuses, we saved nearly $80,000 by not purchasing daily parking permit machines due to the implementation of ParkMobile.
Our proof of concept occurred on the first day of fall semester 2019. I could not believe my eyes, three to four people in line for the cashier’s office. Traditionally the line was over 100. In our lobby, Shelley Munoz’s sister thought she was fabricating stories of people standing in line for a permit. The same was true at our department, three to four people in line.
In face to face marketing, we received positive feedback on the ease of use. Staff, who sometimes forgot their physical permit and were cited, spoke about the convenience when using another household car. (The system allows up to 5 vehicles to one permit). After our first week fully on the system for fall, over 14,000 students had registered and over 2,000 staff. These levels exceeded prior years and lent the idea of convenience equating to more semester passes vs. daily permits.
The overall success of such a digital transformation into the 21st Century of parking technology relies on the support of the properly identified constituency groups and a vision to see the implementation of the solution. The project manager must retain effective talent and frequently communicate with solution-oriented people, as well as the contrarian. In hindsight, I would have engaged some of these essential folks sooner in this journey.
I never thought I could be so excited about parking! I texted my boss, peers and many to share our success. It was truly a collaborative effort.
Chris Moore is a 28-year veteran of law enforcement, serving as the Chief of Police of Palomar College since 2017.
How it works:
Palomar College has partnered with Credential Solutions to offer students enhanced customer service with a 24-hour digital platform to purchase semester permits online through a secure web portal. The system allows for up to 5 vehicles to be “registered” to one student. The license plate number will act as the parking permit ,eliminating the need for a physical permit to be displayed in the vehicle. Students will no longer need to move a permit from one vehicle to another. However, students are only allowed to have one vehicle registered to them parked on campus at any time.
To accommodate daily and hourly parking, ParkMobile will offer a mobile app to complete transactions and add “time” to hourly permits. Users will be purchasing daily and hourly parking through the app. Once the app is open, the user will need to insert a Zone Number. The Zone Number will identify which campus the user will be parking.
Zone Number signage will be displayed throughout the lots of each campus. Zone Numbers have been generated for all four of the Palomar College campuses.
To enforce parking regulations and permit compliance, Community Service Officers check vehicles in the parking lots using police cars outfitted with license plate reader technology. Once a plate is scanned, a database will check and flag unpermitted plates.