DOTS officials hope license plate scanners will make hanging permits obsolete

James Bond has nothing on DOTS the department is taking parking permit checking to the level of MI6 spyware with a plan to install new license plate recognition technology.
The Department of Transportation Services hopes to institute a hangtag-free parking permit system potentially by next fall, DOTS Director David Allen said. The department is currently testing a license plate recognition system that will check a cars license plate numbers against a list of plates registered for university parking permits.

The initiative is an effort by DOTS to cut down on unregistered parkers as well as eliminate the costly process of mailing and distributing parking permits, DOTS officials said.

With the new system, a truck with two cameras attached at the top will go around the campus recording the license plates of cars in the lots. The system will then cross-check its newly-recorded license plates against a database of pre-recorded numbers that are registered to a given lot, Assistant to the Director Beverly Malone said. A similar system is already in place on the German Autobahn.

Were hoping that we at some point will be able to be one of the first campuses to be permit-less and to be able to identify tags optically, said Allen.

DOTS officials said the technological initiative will make checking permits a more sustainable process. The department spent $60,000 a year to distribute 11,000 student permits, 9,000 of which were mailed to students homes, and 75,000 to employee permits, Allen said. The new initiative cost the department around $40,000 and is expected to save DOTS an estimated $100,000.

The system is not only cost efficient but will save DOTS time, Allen said. To test the new technology, one DOTS employee drove by 2,000 parked cars with the cameras. What would usually take half a days work took only 30 minutes, Allen said.

DOTS and University Police are hoping the new technology will track down more than just unregistered students. The system can help track stolen vehicles through the universitys software, University Police spokesman Paul Dillon said.

Theres so many applications for it that we can use, tons of them, Dillon said. If you look out for a car involved in criminal activity [and] it drives on the campus, were going to know it.

Some students are concerned, however, that a tag-free campus will be an inconvenience. Some students, for example, have to switch cars, making a hang tag permit a more flexible option.

The problem with the program is that ... the shuffling of cars might cause confusion and people shouldnt be penalized, President of the Off-Campus Student Programming Board Brooke Warrington said. My car goes to the shop a lot, and if I have to borrow my moms car last minute that will cause confusion, too.

The University of Colorado at Boulder, which is running a similar pilot program, ran into a few of these problems. Occasionally, students would forget to register cars that were not already in the university system, Assistant Director of Parking and Transportation Services Marta Williams said. However, Williams added that there were only a few cases, and these students were first issued a warning.

Despite the potential kinks in the system, Allen is excited about the new technology.

It has far exceeded my expectation already, Allen said. It is amazing.
University of Maryland
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