Executive Director of Campus Safety and Transportation Manjit Sappal explains how the new parking permit system works, why it was implemented, and the goals Campus Safety hopes to achieve with the new system.
Image c/o author
By Ingrid Alkire
American Journalism Student
Whether you are a staff, faculty, or student, if you drive a car and need to park it on campus, you are required to purchase a parking permit. Starting this semester, the parking permit system transitioned from issuing physical to electronic permits tied to a car’s license plate. Executive Director of Campus Safety and Transportation, Manjit Sappal, speaks to the reason, goals, and functions of the new parking permit system.
When asked about his role as Executive Director, Sappal explained, “[M]y main role is to ensure that we take adequate steps to protect our community through preparation, prevention, and building relationships with students, staff, and faculty.” Sappal furthered that he sees Campus safety as “a support mechanism for students, staff, and faculty.”
“I think there tends to be this notion that we just write tickets, [that] all we do is enforce the rules, [but] that’s the small part of what we do, we really are about education,” Sappal explained. When Campus Safety receives a call, they start by facilitating a discussion and documenting the incident, before connecting involved parties with relevant resources on campus. “[Our goal is to] educate folks and make sure that the appropriate parties [become involved],” Sappal stated.
Before discussing the new system, Sappal explained why Saint Mary’s has a parking permit system to begin with. “The reason that we have parking enforcement in general is that many, many years ago the City of Moraga required the college to have some sort of parking management in place. This whole idea of permits and parking enforcement was never done for revenue, it was done because [the college was] required to do it,” Sappal noted.
But why did the city require parking enforcement? “There was a time that we had more cars than spaces available and we were starting to have our folks parking in neighborhoods,” Sappal explained. Specifically, these cars were parking “off campus on Saint Mary’s Road.” Due to “the narrow width of the road this created a traffic hazard and the campus needed to be part of the solution to prevent accidents from occuring,” Sappal noted. “Apparently, we put together a parking permit system [in efforts to address that issue],” he furthered. The City of Moraga did not respond to a request for a comment.
Sappal described that parking permit system, which relied on physical permits, as “cumbersome.” Campus Safety Officers had to look through the windshields of individual cars in search of a permit on display but, even then, there was no easy way to tell whether cars were parked in the right lots (e.g. residential, staff/faculty, students).
The struggle to efficiently and effectively identify physical permits was compounded by the fact that there simply are not enough officers available to check all the cars in every lot on a daily basis. One officer is stationed at the kiosk to “maintain presence and a sense of safety for those entering campus,” and one is tasked with responding to calls, not to mention the fact that an “officer manually locks and unlocks all [the] doors on campus everyday,” which does not leave an officer dedicated to parking enforcement, Sappal shared. “There is no way that an officer or two working [could check all the lots on campus],” he furthered.
Thus, parking enforcement was more reactive than proactive, with officers responding to a large swath of complaints from individuals struggling to find parking. “[Parking enforcement] was very inefficient and sporadic,” Sappal noted. Additionally, the “laminated permits provided by a third party [were] expensive.” All of these reasons led the Office of Campus Safety to start searching for “better ways to make the system more efficient and better enforce parking rules,” Sappal explained.
As a result, the new parking permit system emerged where one’s permit is tied to their license plate instead of a physical windshield hanger. “We have handheld readers that we can [use to] scan a license plate and the system will tell us whether the car has a permit and whether it is in the right lot,” Sappal noted. Furthermore, they have added cameras onto Campus Safety cars that will allow them to drive through a lot and quickly scan all the cars in it. The system is “geo-mapped for every lot, [which means that] the system knows who can park there,” Sappal explained.
Fully launched last week, the new parking permit system is now fully operational. The new system will add “a certain level of fairness in terms of making sure we are getting to every lot on-campus,” Sappal reflected. “The goal is for parking rules to be enforced fairly so that everyone is consistent in following the rules,” Sappal noted. Campus Safety is also working “to get unpaid tickets attached to registration, which will be on par with any other entity that enforces parking,” Sappal explained.
Daniela Zavala ‘24 initially wondered if the new system was merely intended to “intimidate” students into buying permits and was unsure how the enforcement of the new system would work. Zavala also revealed that she knew others who had not purchased a permit, yet did not get a ticket for it. When asked whether she supported heavier enforcement of the parking permit system, Zavala noted, “As is there's not that many parking spots and for those who don't pay for it it diminishes the opportunity for others to park closer.” She furthered, “I could see how it could be difficult for someone who lives off campus to find parking,” though Zavala herself never struggled to find parking near her dorm.
Isabelle Hayes ‘24 voiced similar curiosity regarding the enforcement of the new system and expressed some frustration with the enforcement of the old system. “It bugged me because I’d get frustrated when I was trying to find parking, specifically last year, near the lower townhouses, [...] it was hard to find a spot [...], [and] at least maybe half of them would not have permits hanging in their windshields,” Hayes explained.
When asked whether she supported stricter parking enforcement, Hayes was conflicted. “I do and I don’t. I do because I don’t think it's necessarily fair for the people who do pay for the permits to have to compete with people who aren't paying for permits, but I also understand that paying for parking can be expensive and everyone’s financial situation is different, so some people have to get by and skipping out on a parking permit would save expenses somewhere else [and I’d] hate for them to get tickets,” Hayes reflected.
Aware of the complexities of the parking permit system and parking enforcement, Sappal hopes to address issues and concerns, like those Hayes and Zavala raised, through a parking permit committee. “I don't think that the campus overall has really looked at the parking system in a long time and it's time to reassess that. I am putting together a parking committee that will consist of representatives from staff, faculty, undergraduate, graduate, and commuter students to work through some of the issues with the parking system,” Sappal explained. The committee aims to tackle key questions surrounding parking such as the location of lots, the number of handicapped spaces on campus, and the cost of parking tickets and permits.
During the month of November, two students received parking tickets. However, “[r]ather than impose the fine we asked one to work a community event on campus and the other to spend a few hours with a Campus Safety Officer for a ride along,” Sappal explained. “The Parking Advisory Committee can also help with looking at ways to offset a fine for the first ticket, so we can use it as a learning moment, rather than as punitive,” Sappal furthered.
“Hopefully in the next few years we will have more students, [which will] bring greater parking challenges,” Sappal reflected. “How do we look ahead to the coming years and figure out how to manage that effectively?”
If you would like to check your permit status or purchase a permit, you may do so on the Parking Permit Portal.
Madison Sciba '24,