University of Iowa parking tickets plummet on campus

Cashiered lots, change in habits bring down numbers

Sylvia Smith, 2nd year law student at the U of Iowa attends to parking lot customers as they exit at the Rec Center Lot
Sylvia Smith, 2nd year law student at the U of Iowa attends to parking lot customers as they exit at the Rec Center Lot near the Johnson County Court House. (Justin Torner/The Gazette)

As an out-of-state student at the University of Iowa, senior Kelsey Zlevor keeps a car on campus for when she wants to make the three-hour commute home.

But driving to and from La Grange Park, Ill., is about all the use that vehicle gets, spending most of its time parked outside her Jefferson Street apartment.

“I maybe drive the car 15 minutes a week,” Zlevor, 21, said. “It hardly ever gets used.”

Like Zlevor, a rising number of UI students, staff and faculty are taking the path less driven on campus by choosing to walk, bike or bus. That shift in commuter habits is among several reasons behind a big decline in campus-issued parking tickets of late.

Since 2001, when UI parking ticket numbers peaked on campus, total tickets written have plummeted from 120,265 for that year to 46,464 in the 2013 budget year that ended July 30. Officers also wrote 16,785 warnings last year, bringing the ticket and warning total to 63,249 — down 47 percent from 2001.

Parking officials cite several reasons for the steep decline, in addition to the shift in commuting habits on campus. The UI also has become more efficient in its enforcement efforts and upped fine amounts — dissuading drivers from breaking the rules.

“We have to write parking violations to alter behavior,” said Dave Ricketts, UI parking and transportation director.

UI officials also have pushed for more driving alternatives and fewer metered spaces on campus, driving down citation numbers.

“Often times, expired meter violations are not committed deliberately — it’s an accident,” Ricketts said. “So, where we can, we have taken that piece out of the equation.”

Ditching the meters

The UI has converted more than 1,000 of its previously metered parking spaces to spots in cashiered garages or gated lots. Some of the ramps and lots offer cashiered public parking and some require permits, but all of them make it more difficult to break the UI’s parking rules, Ricketts said.

“We write a few tickets in parking structures, but they are rare,” he said.

Of the 15,669 parking spaces the UI currently enforces, only about 1,000 metered spaces remain, according to Ricketts.  More than 10,750 spots are in prepaid and assigned lots or structures requiring permits.

There was a time, Ricketts said, when meters represented 1/12 of the campus parking spaces and accounted for 60 percent of the violations. There is a range of reasons UI parking administrators have moved away from meters.

“But reducing an individual’s chance of receiving a parking citation for an overtime meter is one important one,” Ricketts said in a document summarizing the UI’s meter conversions. “It also gives us much more flexibility in how we use the facility over time.”

The first large conversion occurred in 1988 when a 400-space lot at the current site of the Iowa Advanced Technology Labs just north of the Iowa Memorial Union was closed. The North Campus Parking ramp was constructed across the street with the same number of spaces — 200 for employees and 200 for hourly parking.

But this time the parking was cashiered instead of metered, Ricketts noted.

Metered spots to the west of the campus library were converted to cashiered and permitted parking in 1990. And about 180 meters south of the Field House later were changed over to a cashiered facility that now holds 295 spaces.

What began in 1990 as 360-some meters by the new Campus Recreation and Wellness Center were converted in August 2010 to a cashiered lot. And 200-some meters in the Newton Road area have been replaced by the 785-space Newton Road ramp.

For the metered spaces that remain, Ricketts said, fines have increased and parking enforcement has improved — further deterring drivers from breaking the rules, resulting in fewer tickets.

“We still use meters in smaller sites,” Ricketts said. “But most of our large metered lots have been replaced with cashiering or by pay-stations.”

Ditching the cars

UI senior Zlevor, an environmental science major volunteering for the Office of Sustainability, said parking concerns don’t actually factor much into her decision to leave her car at home.

“I’m usually thinking of being environmentally friendly, but there are economic impacts as well,” she said.  “Parking is definitely a tough thing in Iowa City.”

Zlevor said she thinks the community’s new Zipcar program — allowing users to rent a car for short periods of time — and bicycling programs and promotions, such as those now included in freshmen orientation, have motivated more students to ditch their cars.

“I can see that tickets would be going down, given the fact that students are using alternative options more so now than we have in years past,” she said.

The UI Office of Sustainability tracks student vehicle use and reported in June that student long-term parking permits have dropped 34 percent since 2007, “reflecting a shift toward alternative transportation modes.”

Liz Christiansen, director of the UI Office of Sustainability, called that decline “impressive.”

“I think there is much more interest in alternative forms of transportation, and as support for those modes has increased, people have found it just as convenient to walk or bike as it is to bring a car,” Christiansen said. “And, in many cases, it’s less hassle and less cost.”

UI transportation heads are pursuing new ways to promote alternate commuting habits by looking at adding bicycle parking, for example, and by installing two bike repair stations on campus, Christiansen said.

UI transportation leaders also recently applied for funding toward a bicycle share program that would plant three docking stations across campus, each housing 10 bikes available for short-term rent.

That project could get funding in January.

Ticket trends

When looking at all the parking tickets issued on the UI campus over the past three years, there are definite peak times of day and times of year for enforcement.

Over the three year period, beginning with the 2011 budget year, UI officers issued the most tickets at 9 a.m., 11 a.m. and just before 4 p.m., according to a Gazette analysis of the data. Ticket numbers would rise during the months of August and February, and fewer tickets were issued on the weekends.

Explore the Data

Number of Tickets Issued by Day

Number of Tickets Issued by Minute

*Note - The past three years of ticket data has been aggregated and graphed based on the time the ticket was issued, regardless of day. Disregard the date in chart labels.

Violation fines can range from $5 for “improper display of hangtag” to $200 for parking in a handicap stall. The fines associated with last year’s tickets totaled $789,101, according to UI parking data — although not all tickets are final.

In the last budget year, 3,684 citations were appealed, 2,919 of which were granted and reversed. And many more tickets — 6,221 in the last budget year — were cancelled for other reasons, such as when employees were ticketed for parking in hospital patient zones while at the UI Hospitals and Clinics in a patient capacity.

“The employee can fill out a cancellation form when they exit,” UI parking and transportation director Ricketts said. “They don’t have to go through the formal appeals process.”

In total, 9,140 of the total tickets issued on campus in the last budget year were annulled through appeals or through a cancellation avenue. That is up from 6,756 in the 2011 budget year.

And Ricketts said that although UI officials have made great strides in driving down the number of parking tickets issued on campus, they’re always looking for ways to further reduce the hassle for students, staff, faculty and visitors to campus.

That could include going to campus meters that accept credit cards, possible in the 2015 budget year.“That is happening and is going to happen, but it’s not immediate,” he said.

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