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Feature

A red car with an open engine hood.

The U's Motorist Assistance Program can help if you're having car trouble.

Extending motorists a helping hand

By Mary Sienko

From eNews, March 10, 2005

Flat tire? Car won't start? Locked your keys in the car? Help is just a phone call away. And best of all, it's free!

For the past 12 years, the U's Parking and Transportation Services (PTS) has been "Johnny on the spot" with its Motorist Assistance Program (MAP). The service, staffed by specially trained in-house employees, is available to anyone who parks a vehicle on University grounds--be it at a parking meter, on a surface lot, or in a parking garage.

"We've answered nearly 33,000 service calls since the program began in October 1993," says Art Kistler, MAP's program supervisor. "And I'm proud to say that we have a consistent success ratio of 96 percent. We can't help everyone, but we give it our best shot." So far, MAP personnel have successfully performed more than 18,500 jump-starts, 10,300 lock-outs, and 2,500 tire services on the Twin Cities campuses in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

"It never ceases to amaze me how happy and relieved people are when we come on the scene," remarks Tony Bittner, shop supervisor at the U's Fleet Services, which handles the St. Paul calls. "It's not uncommon to be offered tips, and I can't tell you how many hugs I've gotten."

While tips aren't accepted, a grateful customer with a smile is most welcome. "Many [even] write us cards or call to thank us," says PTS utility worker Terry Peters. "We've even had cookies sent to the office."

With such a high number of successful service calls and satisfied customers, Bittner and his MAP colleagues have no shortage of interesting stories to share.

On the Twin Cities campus in St. Paul, the greatest percentage of calls comes from the parking lot by the Small Animal Clinic. "Honestly, I think the owners are so concerned about their pets that they get rather distracted," says Bittner. "One of our recent calls was to assist a woman who had locked her keys in the car and left the engine running. On top of that, she had a dog inside that was frantically barking and dashing about. When we realized the tools we had weren't working, we radioed for another vehicle with a different lock opener. It was only going to be another 5-10 minutes, but by then she was feeling very anxious for her pet. She didn't want to wait and had us break the car window."

However, not every call has such a dramatic conclusion.

Most service calls end simply with an enthusiastic wave "goodbye" from the caller. And callers have run the gamut--elderly, young, male, female, student, staff, faculty, and visitor. MAP has even rendered assistance to our public servants--the police, the Highway Patrol, and even Homeland Security personnel.

"Now there's a story," says Peters with a laugh. "The University police were lending manpower during one of the Presidential candidate visits to downtown Minneapolis. We got a call from them asking us to come over and open [a] vehicle, since we were the closest and fastest. Apparently, the Homeland Security folks had locked their van keys in with all of their weapons."

The U's Twin Cities campus is the third largest traffic generator in Minnesota, behind the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Winter months naturally see a huge boost in calls. Not surprisingly, January is the busiest month for jump-starts and tire services. And for whatever reason, lockouts are most common in October and November. But no matter the season, the average response time--from when you place a call to when someone arrives on the scene to help--is typically less than 20 minutes.

MAP is available to all legally parked, on-campus patrons Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Call 612-626-PARK (7275).

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