When students at major Florida universities can’t find parking on campus, they sometimes make their own.
Kris Singh, director of parking services at the University of Central Florida, has seen it himself.
“We’ve had students from the art department make their own parking space,” Singh said., “painting their own lines at the end of a parking lot.”
When called out, the student was recalcitrant.
“He swore it was the same,” he laughed. “But we use what we call thermoplastic paint, so we know what is ours and what is not.”
There’s no doubt that college comes with a hefty price tag. What’s not on that list of expected expenses? Parking permits, which cost $160 for the academic year at the University of Florida, for example. Still, across Florida, campus parking tickets apparently remain the bane of students and faculty alike.
At the University of Central Florida, for example, an officer identified only by the badge number 358 was the most prolific in 2018, writing over 7,500 tickets. In 2017, Officer 358 lost the top spot to Officer 309 (reporting 3,163 written citations to pass their count of 2,537 for the year).
After the ticket comes the petition — and occasionally, a little lying. That’s why UCF’s Singh values his experience as a parking patroller.
“It gives you that upper-hand information,” he said.
Manny Guerrero, facility and events specialist at UCF, added, “You name it, I’ve seen it at least once.”
A person once went to their office to file a complaint, arguing that they were never actually in a certain parking lot to deserve their ticket.
It wasn’t me, they argued.
“Sir. Sir,” Singh tried.
Still, he continued: “Not me! Not me!”
Eventually, Singh got a word in.
“Sir, yes you were, because I was the one that wrote you that ticket,” he said.
How we reported this story
“LICENSE PLATE NOT REGISTERED.”
“NOT A MOTORCYCLE / SCOOTER SPACE.”
“OUT OF ASSIGNED AREA.”
While working on this story, I recognized a lot of violations I’ve committed myself as a student at the University of Florida.
Put an old envelope on my dashboard? Turned my meter ticket upside down to hide the time? Made my own parking space? Yes, yes, and yes.
A few, though, I didn’t even imagine. Removing my license plate? I’m not that bold.
To report this story, I requested data from 2016 to the present from major universities in Florida where other students and faculty would be bold enough to fight tickets. Data sets ranged from 2016 to 2019, allowing us to see a several-year trend. Most schools kept detailed data — with date, time, location and even parking patroller comments — and handed over these public records without question. Florida International University would not release its parking data without first paying a fee.
To understand parking on these large campuses, it’s important to speak to the enforcers on the ground. Unfortunately, some departments such as the one at UF told their parking patrollers not to speak to reporters. This story, in response, was built on a lot of early-morning attempts to find and follow employees to understand their day-to-day life.
As someone who has had a boot twice while parked on campus, I can assure you they work hard. Also, if you are the owner of a silver/gray Nissan Sentra with Florida tags, I hope you know you have over 60 tickets, and I wonder if you’ll ever pay them.
Other ways people try to get out of their tickets include turning the meter ticket facedown so the patroller can’t read its expiration, a trick 175 people got fined for in 2018. In 2017, 2,500 fines were given out on the UCF campus for expired license plates, a common method of trying to avoid citations.
If you’re trying to avoid paying, the worst garages to stow your car are H, C, and D at UCF, which are the highest ticketing areas. At FSU, Traditions Way Garage, Woodward Garage and the University Center Building D — in that order — are the top parking areas to avoid.
Graduate student Anthony Sanchez has received 14 tickets in his career at UF. The worst one? Returning to his car after work to find a yellow boot on his tire.
“Oh, I was shook,” the digital marketing strategies major said. “That was not fun and very unpleasant. Ten out of ten would not recommend.”
As a graduate hall director and former Inter-Residence Hall Association president, it is literally Sanchez’ job to be on campus. To be at work by 7 a.m., he’d have to wake up around 6 a.m. to walk from his on-campus apartment. Driving is much easier, he said, especially when he has to run errands around campus.
The boot meant that Sanchez — who lived on campus — was about to get his parking privileges revoked.
“Because I would have had nowhere else to put it, they worked with me to put my car in a parking garage,” he said. “But the commuter lot became the only place across campus that I could park my car.”
In 2017, Norman garage was the most ticketed garage, thanks to Officer 405. Officer 405 is in the top five of the most frequent ticket givers at UF, while Officer 407 reigns supreme. Officer 407, who now works for the transportation and parking department as a nighttime maintenance supervisor, gave 14,981 in his last year as a parking patroller.
Transportation and Parking Services’ annual revenue from parking citations is over $1 million. With so many tickets handed out at UF’s campus, it’s little wonder positive feedback stands out. There’s a Valentine’s Day voicemail of which director Scott Fox said he is especially proud.
The student’s voicemail played on Fox’s speakerphone, a little sheepish and a lot relieved.
“I just wanted to say thank you guys so much,” he said. “I had a super rough week, and I knew coming back to my car there’d be a parking ticket.”
What he didn’t expect was the sweet message inside, the student said. For Valentine’s Day this year, Fox’s team of garage and lot enforcers gave out cards. “This is just a warning,” they read in bright pink, “…call me.”
“ I can’t believe I’m telling TAPS I really appreciate them,” the student laughed, “but this was a great move.”
It’s a move Fox hopes will change how the campus views his department.
“Usually we get a lot of complaints, so this was really special to me,” he said. “W don’t just want to be the guys that jump out from the bushes and catch you and give you a ticket. We also want to be the people that help you out, too.”
If you’re hoping for more parking spaces, the consensus among these parking authorities is not to get your hopes up. Some, like UCF and UF, are bound by comprehensive city plans that regulate the number of parking spaces they may have.
Their answer to the parking problem isn’t something students want to hear: there are enough parking spots. The issue, Fox said, is students want to park close to their classes and not have to catch a bus from an available commuter parking lot.
“It’s really a whole lot easier to swim with the current than against the current,” he said. “Sooner or later, it’ll kind of catch up to you and you realize it wasn’t worth it.”