ALBUQUERUQE (KRQE) - Everyone knows that parking at the University of New Mexico is difficult.
But what you might not know is that thanks to a tangled web of rules, laws and actual practices, parking at UNM is more like entering a parking Twilight Zone.
“(It’s) the Legislature’s fault,” said state Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, whose district encompasses the campus. “It’s our fault … It’s up to us in the Legislature to try and make this right and clear this up.”
Since 2010, UNM parking outlaws have paid the university $1,118,000 in parking fines. During the same period of time, the city of Albuquerque collected $802,633 – about $300,000 less.
“The revenue that we obtain through citations is largely offset by our expenses in obtaining it in the first place,” said Bob Nelson, director of UNM’s parking division. “What we want is orderliness. We want to inform and educate before imposing penalties.”
Nelson said the university issues tickets not to make money but to discourage vehicle use on campus. But with more than a $1 million flowing in to the parking department, which keeps the money, the big fines levied by the UNM parking program are lucrative.
For example, parking at an expired meter will cost you $20. If you get caught in a handicapped spot without the proper placard, you’ll owe the university $250. The only complete list of the fines is posted on a cluttered bulletin board in the parking office.
However, UNM’s fines appear to conflict with state law.
That’s because the legislature gives the university the authority to regulate parking on campus and the penalties are capped by law. But there are two conflicting statutes on the books that cap the penalties. One says fines cannot exceed $5, while a later law allows UNM to issue penalties up to $100.
“You got us on that one,” said state Sen. Bill Payne, R-Albuquerque, an attorney. “That’s something I’ll look into and get an amendment … Just to get it off the books and make sure it’s clear (and) everyone understands what the law is.”
Another part of the story deals with enforcement.
While in most places a parking ticket is a crime that can be enforced by a judge, the situation at UNM is different. If you get a parking ticket at UNM, you have broken the rules, not the law. In other words, the university can’t force you to pay.
Consequently, UNM is sitting on 21,000 unpaid parking tickets that, just since 2010, are worth more than $700,000.
“We don’t pursue them in the normal course … because we don’t know who owns the vehicle or where they live,” Nelson said. “We want to go after abusers whether we know who they are or we don’t know who they are. We don’t quite have the tool in place yet to do that.”
Still, there are mechanisms to make some people pay.
Delinquent fines racked up by a registered UNM student are referred to the financial office and the student will not be allowed to graduate until the fines are paid. One campus parking scofflaw had to shell out $3,190 for 158 tickets within the last two years.
The university also has a secret weapon up its sleeve when it comes to delinquent parking tickets. Rack up four or more unpaid parking tickets and risk having a boot stuck on your vehicle.
“At that time they can retrieve their vehicle only by settling their account,” Nelson said.
Since 2010, UNM has booted 299 cars and collected $22,425 in related charges.
Meanwhile, since space is obviously at a premium in the 600 acre campus, McSorley has figured out a way to avoid the university parking enforcers.
“When I go to campus, I usually try to ride my bike to avoid the problem,” he said. “That’s how bad it is.”
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