LMU Goes Virtual
Loyola Marymount University (LMU) is a beautiful, open campus surrounded by a residential area of Los Angeles. If you walk around campus, you will not see many gates. You won’t see any parking permits in vehicles. In fact, most lots are mixed use.
LMU is one of several organizations leading the industry into a more open, virtual future that is made possible by License Plate-Enabled (LEP) parking. Their parking management solution layers integrations with Genetec AutoVu mobile License Plate Recognition (LPR), Digital Luke® II pay stations, and Parkmobile Pay-by-Cell over the T2 UNIFI Parking Management Platform to enable a virtual permit parking operation.
Business Needs, Challenges and Opportunities
Since LMU is constructing a new Science building with a garage below it, parking needed to create more revenue to support the project. But, as Associate VP of Administration Services Mike Wong said, “We haven’t charged for parking on campus for over a decade. We’ve been working through a somewhat substantial PR challenge because people are unaccustomed to paying for parking. We first started communicating the idea that we were going to charge for parking two years before we actually moved to it,” Wong explained.
“New signage, town hall meetings—everything,” LMU Director of Parking and Transportation Coby Wagman elaborated.
The University administration felt strongly that, to preserve LMU’s unique feel, parking gates should be avoided when possible. “So now we are charging for visitors and long-term parkers, both in mixed lots, and we have almost no gates—all of our parking is mixed use. Frankly, the capital investment of the access and revenue control hardware would have added substantial cost to the project that the LEP solution lets us ignore,” said Wong.
Managing Parking Conveniently and Efficiently
Virtual Permits Explained
Permits are not just a hangtag or decal, but rather are the parking permissions and limits that those items represent. A virtual permit system is one in which parking privileges are not removed, but are rather simply identified differently. Parking privileges can be determined by virtually any unique identifier: a license plate, driver’s license, toll tag, and employee or student IDs can all serve as a virtual permit. And the same parker can use multiple identifiers for added convenience and flexibility. LEP relies on the license plate as the virtual permit.
“Our permits are completely self-serve,” said Wagman. “Parkers register on our eBusiness site and, since the license plate is already on the car and there is no permit to display, as soon as parkers register, they are immediately able to park. The permission is acknowledged in real time, which is convenient for them and for us.”
Wagman and his team agree that, while the new LEP solution has required some getting used to, “It’s been very easy. There is a lot of technology behind it, and there were some hiccups that required troubleshooting, but it has been a straightforward, user-friendly experience.”
Managing parking without gates or physical permits displayed in the vehicle does have a few obvious benefits, said Wong. “This saves us parking staffing expenses because there is no distribution of permits or stickers, no procurement—that saves a significant amount of labor, on top of the hard cost savings.”
LMU went from not charging for parking to charging every parker, and the business practices at the university do not always line up with this change.
“Many of our departments felt that there was a need to validate some, but not all, of some people’s parking,” said Wong. “There is no way to do a sticker or stamp validation because there are no tickets. So we worked with Digital to come up with a coupon code system so departments can issue validations to their guests. These validations can be good for one or multiple uses, and can be limited by the clock or the calendar. This lets departments issue validations while we retain full control.”
Since the concept of paying for parking was fresh at LMU, Wong and Wagman wanted to make payment as easy as possible.
“We added Parkmobile as a customer service initiative,” said Wong.
“Adoption is increasing every month,” said Wagman. “Once parkers are through the registration process, they love it!”
“This was a big step for us, going virtual,” said Wong. “For me, it was scary at first. But now that we’ve seen it in action for a semester, I’m convinced that it in action for a semester, I’m convinced that it really is the way to go. It frees you up to do so much more,” he said. “It frees up parking staff, allows customers to avoid lines at the office, and it’s efficient to enforce with T2 Handhelds and the eTicketbook integration with AutoVu LPR.”
And to supplement the enforcement vehicle, officers can enforce on foot with T2 handheld ticketwriters by simply keying in the license plate information or calling up a report of paid license plates from Digital’s EMS. Multiple vehicles can be tied to the same virtual permit, but the permit can only be in active use by one vehicle at a time; the system is even smart enough to cross-check if a plate has been scanned more than once in a parking area over a user-configured period of time.
UNIFI Parking Management
Perhaps the greatest benefit of LEP is comprehensive parking data management. With payroll deduction parking payments from faculty and staff, student account billing, credit card payments at pay stations and from phones, and point of sale transactions all flowing into Flex, complicated processes are simplified and streamlined.
“The centralization of everything has been great,” said Wagman. “We have Oracle, Banner, contact, license plate, and payroll deduction information all in one place. It’s complete convenience. We have been able to support our parking operation while simplifying everything.”
“Our students are assigned to certain sectors or parking lots based on where they live, and that also needs to be enforced,” said Wong. “Not just whether or not they have a permit, but also whether or not they are in the right lot. And the LEP solution handles that wonderfully.”
Educating LMU’s parkers about how to use the LEP solution also proved to be a hefty task—at least at first. “Universities are very decentralized, so we have to work with other departments to accept this new standard and new system. We had some challenges getting buy-in,” said Wagman.
“More than 50%, maybe even 60-70% of the effort, has been on the communication of the solution,” Said Wong. “It’s been a challenge for people to understand that we don’t have any physical permits! Many people get close to the concept because they are familiar with Pay-by-Space parking in cities, but the long-term, plate-based permits were a challenge to explain. We had to be vigilant and careful about enforcing parking in the beginning because we had to show parkers that yes, we knew where they were and where they could park. However, our revenue model is based entirely on permit sales. Citations are just our management tool, not designed to be a revenue generator.”
“There is a learning curve to it, and getting everyone to buy into the system—and also shoulder the responsibilities of maintaining accurate records that it involves—seemed difficult early on,” Wagman explained. But now that paying for parking and the virtual permit system have earned widespread acceptance at LMU, the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.
Achieving Customer Satisfaction
“Before this year, the cost of providing parking was partially on the backs of our students’ tuition. What T2 and their integrated partners have done is freed up parking to be self-funded. Parking now funds all parking operations. Parking will finance the garage construction, too,” said Wong.
“I haven’t heard a single person complain about registration,” Wong said. “The response that we have had from faculty and staff usually sound something like, ‘That was really easy, it took like 30 seconds,’ and ‘Wow that was great!’ Most faculty and staff are surprised by how easy it is.
“Students, on the other hand, have grown up with instant technology,” Wong said. “It’s easy for them, and from their perspective, that’s just how it’s supposed to be. Why would it be any more difficult?”