They patrol the campus parking lots in white personalized trucks. They direct student and visitor traffic at commencement ceremonies and sporting events. They even jump start your car, inflate your tires or unlock your doors when the need arises. You guessed it, these knights in blue cotton uniforms are the UC Davis Transportation and Parking Service officers.
While these university employees are often known for the little yellow envelopes they leave parking violators, I sought out to discover what a typical day in the life of a TAPS officer was really about. Do they enjoy their job? Have they been ticketed themselves?
As the recipient of several parking tickets myself, I was anxious to get a glimpse of the other side. I arrived last Tuesday morning at TAPS to spend a day on the job and was excited to be paired up with one of the department’s most experienced officers.
Rohit Sharma has been a UC Davis employee for 17 years, and began his career in Student Housing.
“I was a supervisor for seven years at Student Housing. I needed a change and something more challenging,” Sharma said.
Sharma found what he was looking for in the TAPS department, serving as a senior parking representative for the past six years.
“It was a new challenge and the job requires more skills,” Sharma said.
I was picked up by Sharma in one of the TAPS vehicles we constantly see combing the campus. We spent the first few minutes of the ride discussing the events of a typical Monday before we proceeded to hit the road.
Sharma said the usual Monday begins with a weekly enforcement meeting. TAPS employees meet with supervisors and discuss any changes to protocol or events taking place within the upcoming week.
Next, officers check their e-mail for updates and gather their equipment for the day ahead. A dispatch radio is one of the most important items for a TAPS officer. Sharma also emphasized the importance of bringing a cell phone in case of a radio malfunction.
We began our UC Davis tour with a drive through central campus, past the Silo and out toward the parking lots that border eastern campus. As we drove, Sharma began to explain the breakdown of an average eight-hour workday. I soon discovered the job required more than just issuing citations.
“Eighty percent of the day is patrolling,” Sharma said. “But 20 percent of our day is providing services.”
With the poor weather in winter, there tends to be more time allotted to TAPS courtesy services. These services include jumping car batteries, unlocking doors and inflating flat tires. These courtesies are available to any UC Davis student or employee, regardless of whether or not they have a parking permit. They are available from 7 a.m. till 10 p.m.
Another lesser known service TAPS provides is emergency rides home for participants in the TAPS carpool program. A student who finds themselves in an emergency situation and needs to get home can call TAPS for a lift. TAPS has driven students as far as Auburn and the Bay Area. This service is not offered past 4 p.m.
Sharma expressed concern for TAPS’ reputation as the UC Davis “parking Nazis”.
“We are trying to change our image by marketing our services free of charge,” Sharma said. “We just help one customer at a time and try to maintain a positive attitude.”
We proceeded to cruise through the pouring rain all the way out to the UC Davis Primate Center at the end of Hutchinson Drive. Sharma’s goal was for me to see the far reaches of campus that TAPS must monitor and offer services when duty calls. I didn’t mind getting a glimpse of some of the primates as well.
Upon entering the parking lot, I noticed surveillance cameras. A rumor I had heard regarding hidden cameras in campus parking lots came to mind. Sharma said that while some lots do have cameras, most parking lots are not recorded.
Another myth I wanted to dispel was the common belief that officers ticket more at the end of the month to fatten their paycheck. A handout I was provided with by TAPS enforcement supervisor George Lamb quickly disproved this theory. The sheet outlined TAPS yearly budget and expenditures. Nothing indicated that more citations would amount to a higher salary.
As Sharma said, the majority of his day is spent patrolling lots and citing parking violators. I asked him how he responds to particularly heated citizens.
“You don’t be intimidated by them, and don’t disrespect them. Look in their eyes, express concern and communicate well,” said Sharma.
After issuing a citation, Sharma will often hand any upset customers an appeal form and point them in the directions of TAPS for further information.
Even as a campus employee, Sharma is still a permit holder. He too has received parking tickets in his 17 years at UC Davis, and understands student and employee frustration about being ticketed.
Regarding violation fines, fees can range from a standard parking ticket for $40 to $218 for a tampered permit. Sharma said all traffic violation fees went up 10 dollars this year in the state of California.
TAPS reach apparently stretches far. We continued on to the most southern parts of campus, located on the other side of highway 80, and even out to the medical school buildings located off of Richards Boulevard. TAPS uses 13 university vehicles for patrolling and is said to check thousands of permits every day. Officers also participate in lot utilization practices, where they use a clicker to count cars in parking garages and lots. The goal is to see how these lots are being used.
We ended our two-hour drive in the parking garage where I had left my car. I was personally dropped off by Sharma at my vehicle, and can now vouch for TAPS customer service.
Sharma ended the ride by explaining that while citing one person can result in a negative reaction from several people, the feeling of satisfaction he gains from helping one person makes the job worthwhile.
“We are here to help, to serve, and to make life easier for people and suggest services,” Sharma said.
Despite the hundreds of dollars I have personally invested in tickets and permits in my undergraduate career, I can now see why TAPS officers view themselves as ambassadors for the campus. They unlock our doors, give us directions and even fine those jerks that monopolize metered spaces for too long. It seems we actually have more reasons to be grateful to them than unappreciative.
Students can learn more about TAPS services and regulations at their website taps.ucdavis.edu. Students are also recommended to explore TAPS goClub and learn about green alternative transportation options.
AMANDA HARDWICK can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.