We Are the Wolfpack: Meet Matt Heater

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One of 10 transportation officers at NC State, Heater helps monitor nearly 20,000 parking spaces on campus.

NC State Transportation Officer Matt Heater in his vehicle

Transportation Officer Matt Heater says issuing parking tickets isn’t particularly fun.

No, really.

He’s one of 10 officers monitoring nearly 20,000 parking spaces on campus. And when it comes to slipping that little piece of paper under your windshield wiper, well, he says it’s just part of the job.

Heater used to walk the lots and decks, manually checking parking permits. But a new app-based system adopted last year by University Transportation makes the process “a hundred times better,” he says, allowing him and his colleagues to cover a lot more ground each day.

Cameras on top of their vehicles scan license plates as they cruise by, digitally logging each one faster than you can say tow-away zone.

And while the occasional angry outburst can be an occupational hazard, Heater says he enjoys most days on the job, especially being part of the Wolfpack family.

What brought you to NC State?

My wife and I moved up here about six years ago from South Carolina to be closer to my kids. I applied for this job and got it. The university is so huge, it took probably a good solid year to get comfortable out here. But I enjoy working for NC State, I enjoy it a lot.

What’s a typical day like?

We have three different shifts with overlapping schedules from 6:45 in the morning to nine at night. I work from 8:30 to 5, and we switch up our coverage areas every two weeks. We have four zones: two on main campus, one on Centennial and one that’s decks only because they take a long time to get through.

We have two cameras on top of our vehicles so we can shoot in either direction or use both cameras at the same time. It shows a picture of each car and keeps a log of every car you do all day. So if you hit 3,000 cars in a day, every car is logged in to the computer and goes into a database. When we have a hit, it’ll alert us. Every time we get a hit, we stop and double-check to make sure it read it correctly. If it missed a character on the license plate or something like that, we can correct it in the system.

What’s it been like transitioning from the old system to the new one?

It’s a lot different. We used to have to physically scan every vehicle looking for the permit in the window. So you’d have to get out and walk a lot of the lots. Some of the lots you could drive through and see, but you really had to have your eye trained. So it was pretty tedious. The new system is a hundred times better. It’s wonderful.

We use an app called AIMS to issue tickets, edit and void, do our boot tows. We can do a ton of things. It makes all the difference. Lots that usually took 30 minutes to walk through, I can zip through in 10 minutes now.

Are tickets delivered electronically?

We can do it both ways. If you have an email address we can send it to you that way, but we also put tickets on the cars. Eventually the goal is to use only email so we can just send it to you and keep on trucking.

I imagine you’ve encountered some angry folks along the way.

Oh my gosh, yeah. We’re not well-liked, that’s for sure. And we’re good guys. I understand, though. You don’t know what kind of day someone is having and all of a sudden, they have a ticket on their car. You just try to diffuse the situation the best you can and move on. It’s definitely not personal.

I don’t think anybody really knows that 80% of the proceeds [from parking tickets] supports K through 12 schools in North Carolina. It’s the same with law enforcement tickets.

What other sorts of things do you do on the job?

We offer jump-starts to vehicles anywhere on campus. If you need a jump, just call our Transportation Office. We have two dispatchers there each day. We offer that service to anybody on campus, visitors, students, faculty … doesn’t matter.

What’s your favorite part?

You can meet really good people out here and have some good conversations. And when you can help somebody out and they’re really gracious about it, that’s what the job is about. That’s what makes me happy. I like helping people. I also love being outside. I cannot stand being stuck to a desk. I always did outside of work my whole life, so this is perfect.

Any words of wisdom for someone trying to park on campus?

Just be mindful. A lot of it is just slowing down and reading. We have everything marked as you pull into a parking lot or deck. Just slow down and pay attention.