Parking Services, located in the Facilities Management building. Photo by Kristina Soetje.
Virtual permits have officially replaced the familiar parking tags that UMBC students and faculty have been using for years. The new system, which Parking Services rolled out in mid-August, is entirely digital. Students are able to register up to three cars and purchase permits (which are free for any student, as the cost is included in student fees) through an online portal called NuPark, which eliminates the need to wait in long lines at Parking Services to pick up a plastic hang tag.
Jason Johnson, an account clerk for Parking Services, notes that the change should save students from being wrongfully ticketed for small mistakes like forgetting to switch tags after carpooling with a parent or sibling who parks in a different lot. This new system also eliminates the need for temporary permits, which were previously provided by Parking Services on a day-to-day basis to students who had lost or forgotten their permits.
Virtual permits shorten the permit-checking process. “We have LPR out in the car out in the field — that’s License Plate Recognition,” Johnson explains. “So one person is designated just to drive the whole entire campus and as he drives, it scans the plates in a matter of seconds. It’ll save a lot of time.”
The NuPark system goes beyond regular, yearly parking for students and faculty; handicapped parking, for instance, is also handled digitally. Instead of assigning a separate handicapped permit, an “alert” is attached to the license plate number of anyone who requires accessible parking. “When our LPR guy goes around and he scans, an alert flashes on his computer screen and says, ‘hey, don’t ticket this car. It has a valid handicapped placard,’ or whatever we need the alert to say,” says Johnson.
Daily parking permits are also now fully digital. They may be purchased online in batches of five, ten or twenty. “Once the LPR scans your license plate, your permit will be active for that particular day,” according to the Virtual Permit FAQ on the Parking Services website.
Despite the benefits, not every student is excited about these changes. Senior computer science major Tanner Skura thinks there are too many issues with the system. “With the other parking pass, there’s a physical parking pass. With this it’s just online, and it kind of leaves you questioning if your car is actually registered,” she argues. Skura thinks that a better solution would have been, “a system that uses the online registration and physical tags or stickers of some sort.”
Conversely, Ini Folarin, a junior biochemistry major, prefers the new digital permits. “You don’t have to wait for the physical ones to be mailed to you, and it’s easier to sign up for it,” she says. “Everything’s just so much easier.” Senior biology major Jezica Siarez agrees; her family switches cars frequently and she appreciates not having to remember to switch her permit every day.
Some students do not feel strongly either way, but they wish there had been more transparency about what getting a virtual permit entails. Maxi Wardcantori, a junior English major, recently received a warning citation because she did not know she needed to sign up for a new permit. “They keep saying ‘your plate is your permit’ because it’s a jazzy catchphrase, but that doesn’t give you any information about the fact that you need to re-register for a new permit each year,” she explains. “They just say, ‘your plate is your permit,’ which made me think you could park on campus without a permit.”
Other students are unaware that they can register more than one car. Johnson says that this is because if you purchase your permit before you register all of your cars, there is a brief interim period while Parking Services manually applies your permit to the rest of your cars. Due to this discrepancy, Johnson recommends registering all of your cars before purchasing your permit.
The switch to virtual permits is a major change in how parking at UMBC functions — a change that will ideally result in less paper wasted, fewer undeserved tickets and time saved for students and Parking Services staff alike.