Shortly after the “all-campus” email went out with the subject line, “License plate recognition coming to parking permits,” call volume into the PaTS Communication Center spiked, as anyone would expect. This is a big change that will affect everyone who drives to class or work here. Here’s some background on why the system needed to change and how License Plate Recognition (LPR) was the system that PaTS and Business Services, after more than a year of research, decided to implement.
Timing is Everything
The need for change was chosen for PaTS when the manufacturer of the current radio frequency identification-based system pulled out of the industry and was no longer going to support the equipment. Gabe Gerber, systems analyst for Business Services, explains, “The company that made the hardware and software UNC Charlotte used was bought by a large conglomerate that ultimately decided not to reinvest in the product.”
Maintaining a defunct product without vendor support, parts, etc., is neither practical nor cost-effective. This presented PaTS with an opportunity to find something better that could keep up with campus growth and offer features that students, faculty and staff had been requesting.
“License plate recognition for enforcement is becoming popular for institutional use all across the country as the technology becomes more and more reliable and more cost-effective, “ says Doug Lape, PaTS director. “Using LPR for access control is somewhat new, but still used in a number of instances throughout the world, with a handful of locations in Uptown Charlotte. The linking of the two [enforcement with access control] is, well, on the leading edge of technology.”
Gerber believes it makes good sense to leverage LPR technology to do both. “Why pay to make, distribute and manage a parking credential [permit] when you bring one with you on your vehicle every day? Your license plate is identifying documentation. And we also have the 49er ID Card, so there’s the benefit of having your ID as secondary credential if there’s ever a problem with the LPR.”
- For students, the pain of standing in line to buy or pick up your parking permit is OVER. No more having to get your permit before classes start or pay visitor parking fees on the first day of class until you got that permit in your hand. Now you’ll be able to go online, set up a UNCCMyPark account, register your vehicle information and instantly have parking permissions linked to your license plate and to your 49er ID Card.
- Waiting for a financial aid refund before you can purchase a permit? The new parking system’s mobile interface allows you to buy temporary daily permits through an app or web portal. No permit line; no having to pay the hourly rate in a visitor deck.
- For YEARS students have requested that permits be available for purchase by the semester. With LPR, you will now be able to buy your student permit for the year or for each semester or summer term. Those who know they will need to commute all year can save a little time and money by purchasing a full-time annual permit at the beginning of the academic year. At the same time, a student who is graduating in December doesn’t have to pay the full $450 for an annual permit, return it to the PaTS office after Commencement, and then wait for that prorated refund. Beginning this fall, they’ll be able to purchase a semester permit, which will get them to graduation.
- Changing vehicles or driving a rental car for a few days will no longer require a trip to the PaTS office. Updating your information can be done through an app, web portal or with a phone call.
- The new system is flexible and expandable. Look for customer-friendly features in the future, like real-time space counts so you’ll know exactly what decks and lots have availability when you arrive on campus.
But there’s this one thing…
LPR does require a clear license plate view from the drive lane adjacent to the parking space; backing into a parking space hides the plate so that will draw a citation unless:
- Your tags are from a state that issues both front and rear plates (and both plates are properly displayed)
- You purchase an optional LPR-readable UNC Charlotte plate for the front of your vehicle. PaTS has sourced a product that works well with the LPR cameras. They are expected to sell for $30. This plate is potentially just a one-time expense; it is valid for as long as it's legible and your state-issued license plate number remains the same.
Will the change to LPR make permit prices go up?
Permit prices for full-time permits will be the same for 2017-18, which makes the fourth year in a row without an increase.
The primary factor that determines permit price is the cost of new deck construction and replacing flat lots with decks. As existing surface lots make way for new buildings and those spaces are replaced with decks (as per campus Master Plan), permit cost go up accordingly because parking is self-supporting.* A rate increase may be necessary by 2018-19 to support the University’s continued growth, but we won’t know that for sure until sometime in 2018.
Change is never easy
“We all need to be aware that the introduction of any new system will have some bumps,” says Lape. “But I’m confident that once campus gets used to it, the benefits will be evident.”
For specifc questions about virtual permits or parking at UNC Charlotte, the PaTS Communications Center is available 24-hours on weekdays (5 a.m. Monday – 10 p.m. Friday), or you can write email@example.com. We’re also on Twitter, @unccparking.
* State funds are not used to pay for parking facilities; collected citation fines cannot supplement construction or maintenance of parking facilities.