Parking department finds way to educate

For some students who drive to campus every week, tickets can almost seem like everyday occurrences. But new green and orange bookmarks left on a windshields could signal that more students are being given a break.

The University of Miami has recently changed its tune on some parking violations. Since fall 2010, parking officers have had the choice to place warning tickets that look like bookmarks on cars instead of tickets.

The Department of Parking and Transportation ordered about 2,000 bookmarks and has used nearly all of them.

Department director Richard Sobaram said that money from parking tickets is not figured into the university’s budget. Instead, tickets are issued to help the university regulate parking on campus and conduct business in a manageable way.Although he didn’t want to give exact figures, he said the number of tickets and revenue from those tickets has gone down since the warning system was implemented.

But Sobaram doesn’t attribute the lower number of tickets solely to the new warning system.

“Since the fall of 2006, there have been a number of changes that contributed to the lessening parking tickets, things like UV [garage] opening, restriction of freshmen having cars, Red Road Commons opening and a public transit program that allows employees to get a free Metrorail pass instead of buying a parking pass,” Sobaram said.

According to Sobaram, this is all part of a shift in thinking to use warnings in some cases, so students can learn the rules and avoid making the same mistake again. Sobaram said the idea came about during a management brainstorming session where employees tried to come up with new ways to educate students and faculty about the rules of parking on campus.

“Whether to ticket or hand out a warning depends on the situation,” Sobaram said. “Some students who have never received a warning might be towed the first time because of where they’ve parked; it depends on what the violation is.”

For example, he said, a warning might be issued for parking overtime at a meter or parking in the wrong lot. If someone is a repeat offender, that could result in a ticket. Each officer has access to the record of drivers that can help them determine if a warning or ticket should be used.

In some situations, there’s no leeway given, he said. If someone parks in a handicap spot, near a fire hydrant or a market reserved space, they could be ticketed and even towed.

“For instance, if it’s 3:45 p.m. on a Friday and someone has parked in a nearly empty lot with a wrong permit, it would make more sense to give them a friendly warning instead of a ticket because in 15 minutes [after 4 p.m.] that lot would be free to park in anyway,” Sobaram said.

Such “friendly warnings” can come in the shape of an actual ticket or can look like a green and orange bookmark titled “Gimme A Break.”

The bookmarks also allow violators to see what their citation would have been, and encourages them to visit the parking Web site or call for more information to learn how to avoid such violations in the future.
Some students who have gotten a warning say they’re happy to catch a break.

“I really appreciate the softer approach,” junior Michelle Perin said. “I’ve always had problems when it comes to parking on campus, but it’s nice to see that officers aren’t just out to give tickets, but really do care about the students’ awareness.”

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