Parking Enforcement Is Good Customer Service

Heightened interaction between parking management staff and those using the facilities can bring benefits.

By David Lieb
From the June 2018 Issue

One of the most challenging aspects of campus parking management is enforcement. No one likes to get a parking ticket, and contrary to contemporary wisdom, campus parking managers don’t like issuing them. The real point of parking enforcement is neither to punish nor to generate revenue (though it does both). The real function of parking enforcement is customer service. It is about protecting parking spaces and capacity for the people who are doing the right thing: purchasing parking permits, parking in the proper spaces, and respecting time limits.

parking enforcement

People who ignore the limits and regulations displace and inconvenience others who need those spaces. And that’s the best-case scenario. Other illegal parkers are abusing ADA parking spaces and aisles, are blocking emergency access, and are preventing service and delivery from occurring effectively. These transgressions go beyond simple inconvenience and can jeopardize health, safety, and the efficiency of operations.

Ambassadors, Not Ninjas

When it comes to campus parking enforcement, the most effective programs take an ambassadorial approach—meaning that enforcement personnel shift from being ticket writers to being field service representatives. Ambassadors are a consistent presence around parking facilities; they can be greeters and guides, and if they spot someone parking illegally (whether out of ignorance or disregard), they can educate and guide that customer to a legal space.

A good hiring and robust training process is crucial to putting the right people, with the right mentality, out there—talented, personable professionals with customer service orientation and tools.

Another key aspect is having the appropriate metrics. If you do everything else right, but give the field representatives a ticket quota, you risk the success of this endeavor to refocus your efforts and revise your reputation. By no means does this imply that these ambassadors shouldn’t have metrics, but one might need to rethink what those metrics are. Ask staff to make a certain number of customer contacts during the course of their day, or make sure that they are covering enough parts of each parking facility enough times during their shift. It’s more about improving compliance than about writing tickets.

But, The Budget?

Undoubtedly, budgetary realities have to factor into this conversation. The good news is that enforcement personnel can fully support their own positions (including equipment and career apparel) by writing, on average, just three to eight tickets per hour depending upon pay rates, systems, equipment, and other expenses. There is never likely to be a shortage of violators.

In a reconsidered enforcement operation, anything beyond break-even could be considered gravy. If that would be a budget buster, consider recovering lost revenue through improved citation accuracy to reduce voids, and via enhanced collection rates. Reduced staff turnover among the enforcement ranks (by virtue of making the job and people’s impressions more pleasant) may save money by reducing hiring and training costs.

Das Boot

Sometimes parking violations are so frequent, chronic, or flagrant that stronger action is needed and vehicles must be physically removed. Or, must they? A good, rational towing and booting program can also enhance the customer service face of the parking organization. Naturally, there are times when towing is the best (or only) solution, for example: a vehicle illegally occupying a reserved or ADA space; or someone parked in a manner that threatens health and safety (hydrant, fire lane, etc.).

Other times vehicle immobilization, or “booting,” may be more appropriate. There are several advantages to booting over towing (which is usually done by an outside service provider). For one, the booted vehicle is still there. For the customer, this means no panicked phone call to the police reporting a stolen car; it also means that they don’t have to locate the car down to get it out of impound. Also, a boot fee may not necessarily have to be paid in cash—a typical requirement at towing companies. The parker can pay their fee and outstanding fines, and drive away.

The facility/organization benefits by collecting a boot fee (it should be priced less than the towing fee), which generates revenue rather than for a towing contractor. Also, this costs the driver less, hopefully creating fewer hard feelings. Applying a boot takes less than a minute, which is much more efficient than summoning and awaiting a tow truck. The boot can be used to compel payment in full of all outstanding fines, whereas a towing company is usually only able to and/or concerned with collecting its own fee.

There are several caveats about the use of a booting program. First, you need to have the ability to respond 24/7, be prepared to collect fees and fines, and be prepared to release a vehicle at the time the driver discovers the boot and settles their account. This can be done with the assistance of security personnel or ambassadors, an answering service, or an outside contractor (easiest, but cuts potential revenue benefits). Note that booting provides the flexibility to return a vehicle immediately to someone who cannot pay but has a bona fide emergency—something that simply isn’t possible if you’ve had a vehicle towed.

Heroes, Not Villains

Your field staff don’t need to be seen as villains. In fact, they can be heroes of a sort, helping drivers park legally and providing parking guidance. These efforts don’t come from one-time expenditures, but rather through a process of investing in the staff, processes, and facility. However, it will raise the profile (in a great way) of your department. It will also make staff, particularly the ambassadors, feel better about their jobs—they’ll be more comprehensively trained and they’ll have more positive (and fewer negative) experiences with drivers. For small investments, you can avoid frequent hiring processes and new employee training; you’ll also be developing entry-level staff who will gain the skills to grow and develop within the department. And—if even a little bit more than before—employees and visitors will recognize that parking enforcement is customer service.

parking enforcementLieb is a parking consultant at Walker Consultants, Inc., specializing in higher education and transportation demand management. Walker is a global parking design and consulting firm providing forensic restoration, building envelope, parking design and consulting, and planning services.

Share your thoughts in the Comments section below or send an e-mail to the Editor at