As the chief business officer for the University of Southern Maine, all auxiliary services for USM – including parking – fall under my division. I would like to respond to a recent reporting by the Press Herald regarding the new parking payment and enforcement system at USM (“University of Southern Maine students say new parking system has cost them thousands in fines,” April 8).

As a state university, USM has a responsibility to the taxpayers of Maine to operate in a fiscally sustainable manner. Currently, USM’s parking operations operate at a $1.2 million deficit. Last summer, we moved to an electronic parking system in an effort to close that budget gap. We reviewed many options and ultimately selected these electronic parking vendors as the most cost-effective options, in keeping with parking industry trends. Electronic parking systems based on license plate readers that determine whether a vehicle has a valid permit come at a low upfront cost to the university, and the upkeep costs remain low because the citation vendor is able to recover its costs by retaining a portion of the citation fees. Without an enforcement component, our parking permits would be optional, and managing parking would be impossible.

USM is an early adopter of this technology in Maine, so we expected that there would be some growing pains and lessons to be learned associated with the shift.

The rollout has been more challenging than we anticipated, but we have listened to members of the USM community and the public, and we have continued to improve and refine these systems. Parking, when done right, is complex behind the scenes. Ideally, we want it to be easy and as seamless as possible for the user. We have made many improvements throughout the academic year, with more planned.

Unfortunately, many of the examples mentioned in the recent Press Herald reporting predate these improvements. We have waived student citation fees incurred prior to Oct. 1, and other issues mentioned have been largely addressed. Our goal is not to make a profit by imposing penalties – and we are still not breaking even on parking operations, let alone turning a profit. Rather, the goal is to cover the maintenance of our lots and garages through snowplowing, resurfacing, restriping and other costs associated with parking on busy campuses.

We have more than 10,000 parking transactions per day on our campuses, with a 96% compliance rate. This means only 4% of transactions result in a citation. This compliance rate is much higher than the industry standard, typically in the 80% range. However, we do not want anyone to receive a citation. For various reasons, ranging from not knowing they should pay for parking (there is ample signage, yet some claim they didn’t see it), to disregard for the policies (some say they saw the signs but disagree with paying to park), the 4% receiving citations are higher than we would like on our campuses, and we are working to find ways to inform and educate people on this parking system. We are installing pay stations by early May to allow those who do not have a smartphone to be able to get a parking permit. We are working on improvements to the payment interface system. And we have seated a parking committee that is working on clearer policies.

USM is committed to serving our students and the communities in which our campuses are located. We regret that our initial attempts to revamp our parking services didn’t go smoothly, but we’ll continue to listen, learn and refine our processes until we get it right.

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