For the last 20 years, Carleton University has used what is now known as the OperationsCommander platform to manage the parking for thousands of student, faculty, and guests. In 2001, the university started using ParkAdmin, a module of OPS-COM, to keep track of permits and streamline enforcement. The savings on administration costs were so significant that within just one year of making the switch to OPS-COM, Carleton University reported a positive return on investment. Over the next years, they would triple their annual revenues from about $1 million dollars to nearly $3 million dollars per year. The work related to this growth would most certainly have put a huge strain on resources under a paper-based system, but thanks to OperationsCommander, the university was able to easily accommodate the increase in volume and traffic.
With a largely manual system, functions like issuing permits, processing violations, and tracking user accounts had to be done by people; this kept the personnel costs high and limited the possibility of future growth. However, once the university had implemented the full OPS-COM platform, the benefits were immediate. With the ParkAdmin, ViolationAdmin, and IncidentAdmin modules, parking personnel no longer had to do everything manually. Now that OperationsCommander was in place, parking users could access features like temporary permits, locker management, and Text2ParkMe, a module that allows parkers to manage their temporary permits via text. The parking staff had easy access to the platform too, with Android-compatible software that connected their hand-held devices to the central database for in-field enforcement. Using these devices, parking staff could use image capture technology and GPS capabilities to identify and virtually tag vehicles as necessary, after which the automated system would take over. Staff and administrators used OPS-COM to handle dispatch, gate control, and tracking of appeal processes, reducing the amount of manpower needed to keep things running smoothly. Rather than having to compile electronic records of every single paper ticket, the OPS-COM platform organized user transactions as they were made, meaning that parking records were always ready for an audit.
First Step is Mobile LPR for Enforcement
In 2017, the university decided to invest in a major update to their platform to include license plate recognition (LPR) technology. At that point, almost 30,000 people were regularly using the 4,000+ parking spaces on the campus; traffic flow was starting to become a concern, and it was clear that the parking environment would benefit from a new strategy. It was decided that the gates would be replaced by LPR cameras throughout campus, which would help solve the problem of bottlenecks at each lot’s entry and exit points. Starting with a limited number of fixed cameras and one LPR patrol vehicle, the university saw an immediate increase in both violations and purchased permits; with the automated platform and cameras working together, it was easier to both issue permits, and catch the parkers who were trying to slip by without a permit. Not only did the number of violations immediately increase, but the personnel costs decreased at the same time. About a year later, more LPR cameras were added to campus, and Carleton University started offering a wide variety of different permit types, all of which would be linked to a license plate creating the individual permits virtual permits. Online permits, Text2ParkMe permits, and pay-by-plate permits all went to a single database, and were managed by the OPS-COM platform. Once the LPR system was fully functional, the university no longer had to issue any hangtags, paper tickets, or stickers to any of their permit holders – every one of the over 23,000+ permits they issued in 2018 was virtual.
In previous years the cost of producing permits was approximately $1.00 each, and with the Virtual Permit project this annual commodity cost had been eliminated. On top of the commodity savings, the labor involved in creating and sending out permits had also been reduced to almost zero, providing additional annual savings in labor costs. There are hardware costs to be recouped from the virtual permit project, but the annual cost savings more than covers the ongoing costs of the project itself.
LPR and Virtual Permitting Improved Customer Service
OPS-COM’s virtual permit platform didn’t just work out for Carleton University – it’s good for the parkers too. Students and teachers alike generally have a lot on their plates, and by managing their permits from their phones instead of at a central parking office, they can take care of things on their own schedules. Instead of having to worry about waiting in line as parkers are processed one by one at the entry and exit gates, they can drive right into the lot and know that the LPR cameras will have identified their permits by the time they’ve found a parking spot. Even if a permit holder has multiple vehicles, each license plate can be added to any permit they’ve purchased; there’s no need to manage multiple accounts, and nobody has to worry about which of their vehicles has the hangtag or sticker. Thanks to the accuracy of the LPR cameras, violations are quickly identified, making it much less appealing to park illegally – parkers with valid permits can trust that the parking spaces they pay for won’t be occupied by people trying to park for free. The increased number of cameras even adds a level of security on the campus as an added bonus.
All in all, the OPS-COM parking platform has improved Carleton University’s parking offerings with a fully automated, customizable parking solution. The university didn’t just get a one-size-fits-all parking solution; they got tried-and-tested parking software, along with a team of experts that made adjustments to suit their needs. With OperationsCommander taking care of parking and violations logistics, the university’s parking platform is ready to grow alongside the institution for years to come.