By Kamrin Baker
It’s almost a guarantee that any given student at the University of Nebraska at Omaha has heard or told a joke containing “UNO Parking” as the punchline.
While student frustrations with Parking Services has been made clear, UNO is seriously lacking in spotlighting the people who work behind the scenes to make amends to parking concerns every day. With a complete staff of parking attendants, shuttle bus drivers, and delivery services, Parking and Transit would be still be incomplete without Vanessa Rath, UNO’s Parking and Transit Manager.
In an effort to shine a light on the upsides and intricacies of UNO parking– and possibly unpack the “butt of the joke” situation, I spoke with Rath to unearth the truth.
Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
KB: Give us a little background info. Who is Vanessa Rath? What path led you to UNO?
VR: I’ve been in the Parking/Transportation industry for 13 years. Prior to my role at UNO, I worked in Seattle, Washington in the trucking industry and then in parking and transportation management for a large private firm. I was fortunate to work in a city that is highly focused on sustainable transit and could bring a background of sustainable transit to UNO. I attended UNO for two years prior to moving to the Northwest, and have loved my years as a Maverick. So, when I saw an opportunity to return to UNO, I jumped at it!
KB: What do you think the biggest misconception is about UNO Parking/Parking Services?
VR: That there is not enough parking on campus. We have a minimum of 500 stalls available at any given time. When we field calls or in-person concerns, we communicate where there is available parking. This information can also be found on our website. Yes, it might not be next to the building you are wanting to go to, but there is parking available. It might be quicker to park in the available spots and walk or shuttle, than to drive around hoping for a spot to open.
KB: What do you enjoy about your job that makes you want to come to work every day?
VR: Great question! There are so many things I thoroughly enjoy about my role here at UNO. I would have to say at the top of the list is the ability to problem solve and offer solutions to students, faculty and staff. I enjoy meeting with individuals who have questions or concerns, to offer suggestions and options to make their arrival to campus less stressful. There is not just one way to get to campus, and if I can offer at least one solution to make that driver’s day easier, it makes my day. We also have a great team at UNO Parking that make the decision to come to work each day much easier. We wouldn’t have the success in the rollout of all our 2017 technology upgrades without the hard work of this tremendous team.
KB: That’s wonderful. Parking Services has moved to a new office location on Scott Campus. That being said, where do you park every morning? Did you have to purchase a parking permit?
VR: I park in the Pacific Street Garage. When I need to be out and about on campus, I ride the shuttles. It is so much easier, especially in the winter to walk onto a warm shuttle and be dropped off, than to walk to a cold vehicle, drive in the same cold vehicle to another campus, and then have to figure out where I am going to park and walk. Yes, I do buy a permit, as well as all my staff.
KB: What improvements would you like to see for UNO Parking and Transit?
VR: We have a list of goals we would like to work towards in the next couple years. Among them are a shuttle app for students to download onto mobile devices to track where shuttles are and when the next one is coming. We will be adding more areas around campus where the Park Omaha App and Kiosk parking will be available for daily and hourly parking. Also, we aim to implement paperless violation notices in an effort to be more sustainable with our use of paper and improve UNO’s carbon footprint. Offering more technology options only continues to enhance customer experience in regards to parking and sustainable transit.
KB: That’s great to hear! What do you think UNO Parking does especially well?
VR: Over the last three years, our top priority has been to improve our Customer Service and options of parking we can provide to our customers. I would say that each year, we exceed expectations from prior years. As I have mentioned, and bragging a little bit, our staff is tremendous in working with our customers to educate and provide options. Our goal isn’t to put a customer in a place to receive a ticket. If you get a ticket, call us. Our goal is to equip you with the information you need to avoid another ticket. Are we perfect? Of course not, as no department or company is, but we are significantly more focused on providing superior service than we were previously.
KB: How do you handle student concerns about parking? It seems that paying for tickets and finding a spot always seems to be the go-to joke for college students on this campus.
VR: I listen to all feedback, either in-person, phone/email, as well as through appeals. Many upgrades or changes to UNO Parking have come from feedback from our customers. As mentioned earlier, I welcome meetings with the UNO Community to see where there are communication concerns, parking/transit concerns, or just where-do-I-park questions. Parking Services also partners with the Parking Advisory Committee on recommendations or challenges brought up through the Staff Advisory Council, Student Government and Faculty Senate. Parking on campus is only one option. Any current student, staff or faculty member can also ride Metro transit for free, at any time, on any route, on any day. This is a tremendous benefit the University offers!
KB: This job sounds a lot more immersive than others might envision it to be. There is a lot of evolution that has happened and will continue to unfold. How has parking services evolved from UNO’s transition from a sole commuter college, to having students who live on campus now?
VR: With the addition and the continuous expansion of the on-campus resident population, Parking Services has worked with the UNO Housing to expand shuttle services, specific lots only for resident vehicles, and provide open lines of communication to residents. In 2016, we rolled out our first express shuttle route from Scott Resident Halls to Dodge Campus. With the success of this route, we transitioned all routes to express routes in Fall 2017. Parking Services also partners with Housing to provide communication to residents in move-in packets, specialized communication for housing at orientations, as well as being present at move-in days to answer questions regarding parking and transit options available to residents.