By Trish Nguyen, Staff Writer – 

In the fall of 2020, UTC physical parking permits will switch to be virtual for all vehicles except those that park in the West Campus garage.

Rather than displaying a physical tag inside the car, each student, faculty and staff member will register their vehicle’s license plate, which will be used to track the cars that can park on campus.

The process of purchasing the permit will be the same as it is now.

Up to three vehicles can be connected to one permit, and drivers can remove or add a vehicle by going onto the UTC Parking Portal.

Daniel Seidel, associate director for parking, said that the switch to virtual parking passes has been tried and true for many other universities.

“I can’t even tell you how many citations and appeals have been made because the permit falls on the floor board or they shut the door too hard and it falls off their rear view mirrors,” Seidel said. “All kinds of crazy stuff happens because we are dependent on that physical piece of plastic. They get stolen. Every now and then, they go missing.”

The prices of the permits will not change, but the switch allows for more permit plans.

Drivers will be able to choose from buying a permit for a single semester, the fall and the spring or the whole year. 

“With that, it reduces the amount of refunds that have to be given,” Seidel said. “If you know you’re graduating in December, not coming back, you have to turn in your fall-spring permit. Now, there’s nothing to turn in. Your single fall permit would expire, and that’s it. There’s not a refund process.”

Not having the physical tag would also be more convenient for those who want to switch to a different parking plan.

They would just need to make the switch online immediately without waiting for the request to process after they return their physical tag.

Additionally, the new tags would eliminate the need for the university to purchase new parking tags each year, which would reduce the waste produced annually and the need to buy more physical permits if more are bought than expected. 

“It’s sort of a guessing game in terms of how many tickets to order because you don’t know if people are just gonna buy Fall or Fall-Spring.” Seidel said.

Parking enforcement will require students to properly display the license plate by parking in a spot with “the nose in,” Seidel said. Plates must also be completely visible with no obstructions like a bike rack or dirt covering it.

Parking enforcement will have specialized vehicles that must easily read the license plate number.

The specialized vehicles will use a camera attached to the top of it to scan the plates and check for vehicle violations. 

“Instead of having somebody on foot, we will actually already have dedicated vehicles that have cameras on them,” Seidel said. “These cameras can read license plates and say ‘yes, they have a permit. They’re allowed to be here.’ All that they’re looking for is: ‘Do they have a permit?’, ‘Do they not have a permit?’, ‘Are they parking in the right lot?’”

The camera can scan up to 600 license plates in 20 minutes, greatly reducing the amount of time enforcement takes to check each lot now. 

“When this thing identifies that ‘hey, that’s a ticket,’ [enforcement] will hop out and write it,” Seidel said. “Actually, this thing can read a tremendous amount of plates very quickly, so we may even find it more efficient to run the vehicle over the entire lot, and it’ll pop up on a little map that these are the cars that need a ticket.” 

Olivia Morrison is a full-time student at UTC who commutes to campus.

“My only concern is that is this new system expensive?” Morrison said. “Because they have a fancy-schmancy driver around that scans license plates. If it was more expensive, I’d say no. If it was equivalent, then I have no things against it really.”

The virtual passes allow for new opportunities with different parking options, but UTC Parking Service wants to make sure that the system works well on in practice before “throwing a lot of extra bells and whistle on it,” Seidel said. 

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