Earlier this year, students experienced a significant amount of difficulty when purchasing parking permits. There were issues getting preferred parking because of changes in traffic and parking regulations that weren’t communicated to students. There were also some reports of receiving parking tickets erroneously. The high number of recent changes in MU P&TS, including virtual permits, has made it more difficult for the office to keep up with permit demand.
Virtual permits are one of the biggest changes in the past few years for the Office of Parking and Transportation Services. But there has been a more recent and damaging change in this office: staff cuts.
The Office of Parking and Transportation Services is one of 18 departments under MU Operations. The communications department addresses the communication needs for all 18 departments. According to Communications Manager Karlan Seville, this department consisted of four members until June 2017. On June 30, the department size was halved as two members were laid off. A third member was let go on July 31, leaving Seville as the only remaining employee in the department. These staff cuts occurred along with budget cuts and layoffs across campus.
Seville handles all sorts of messaging, including posters, videos, emails and even the social media accounts. Seville also monitors the website, addressing any trouble students might have using the purchasing portal or finding other information.
“For [MU Parking and Transportation], that’s going to be a big chunk of my time this next year, because we want to make sure we do a more thorough job of communicating,” Seville said.
A major part of the communication involved with MU P&TS occurs when permit purchasing is opened each fall. During the most recent permit purchasing period, Seville said she “relied a lot on students’ help.” Some students worked with the social media accounts, responding to buyers’ questions or complaints, which Seville approved. To work more efficiently, Seville eventually took full control over the social media, having better access to information than did the students. The students then answered phone calls and walked buyers through the purchasing process when necessary.
Once the fall semester started, however, Seville no longer had access to those students as classes became a priority, and she became responsible for the entirety of communications. Seville has since had to find other resources.
“It helps that Gary [Ward, vice chancellor of MU Operations] is serving as interim student affairs vice chancellor because I have people I can go to,” Seville said. “Angela Dahman, the communications manager — my counterpart — in Student Affairs. So she has been sharing her students with me.”
Despite outside support, the effect of the staff cuts is not fully alleviated.
As a result of the cuts, “reaction time will be slower probably,” Seville said. “Although I will say that parking is a priority right now, so I’m trying to keep up with it. I have been responding even at like 10:30 [p.m.] or midnight. If I see something come up, I usually try to take care of it.”
MU junior Jessica Bromeier follows the MU P&TS Twitter account, using it primarily to find open parking garages.
“[The MU P&TS Twitter account] does post updates every once in a while, just about where to park on game day, stuff like that,” Bromeier said.
However, Bromeier didn’t know that the Twitter account was managed by only one person.
“That seems like a pretty big responsibility … That’s a lot of information for one person to facilitate,” she said.
Another student, sophomore Alexandra Neuhalfen, shared her experience on the MU P&TS website.
“There was a problem with the website at the beginning of the year when everyone was trying to get a parking spot,” Neuhalfen said. “No one was getting them where they wanted to go, and they had to go far away. I know plenty of people in my sorority house who have to go all the way to the stadium, which is like a 15-minute walk from the house. It just really sucks for them.”
The biggest website complications occur while students, faculty and staff are all buying parking permits. According to Seville, over 9,000 permits were sold in July and August this year, and the desire for preferred parking created significant congestion for the program.
“At one point, we sold over 500 virtual permits in less than an hour,” Seville said.
The switch to virtual permits in fall 2015 included a partnership with NuPark, the only vendor that met the university’s requirements at the time. NuPark provides the permit purchasing program that can be accessed via the Tiger Park portal on the P&TS website. In a recent consultation with NuPark, P&TS learned that the heavy load of online traffic was more than the portal was designed to handle. After a certain number of people have entered the system, the portal prevents others from gaining access. That’s why MU P&TS often advises to simply refresh the page.
This situation is not ideal for buyers or for commucations staff. Since the permit purchasing occurred in August, Seville was the only employee left in the department to help resolve student issues. Seville remains optimistic about improvements in communication.
“Once I started taking over the social media, the Twitter account, I feel like our response time has been pretty good,” Seville said.
Further improvements in communication have been planned or are currently underway. MU P&TS is “going to revamp the website completely and make it more user friendly, so that people can actually find information there easily,” Seville said. This will be done with the help of the Division of Information Technology as well as Student Affairs.
Just as students depend on the Office of Parking and Transportation, the office also relies on its own vendors and collaborators, like NuPark and the City of Columbia (which owns a bus service seen on campus). MU P&TS doesn’t always have the control or manpower necessary to fix the complaints it receives on a daily basis.
However, Seville said, “We [MU P&TS] are willing to work with people. We’re not putting up a road block.”
Edited by Brooke Collier | email@example.com