A well-maintained transportation operation is its own kind of performance. Nardello notes that, for visitors to UC Merced, a parking lot is where the university makes its first impression. Are directions to it clear? Is the lot tidy? Is it easy to find a space, and to pay for it?
“We are the first experience,” he said.
As for citations, well, they happen, and working to ensure the process goes smoothly for TAPS and the cited driver is a big part of his job. And when there are disputes – if the atmosphere in the TAPS front office becomes, as Nardello puts it, elevated – “I’m often your de-escalation specialist.” Using empathy deployed with a natural affability and backed by years of experience with citation angst, he brings down the temperature.
In 2000, Nardello left the Gold Rush city of Sonora to take a job selling computers and accessories at the bookstore at UC Santa Cruz, where his future wife, Heather, was a student employee in financial aid. In 2003, both of them saw the UC going up in the Central Valley as an attractive opportunity. Heather was hired in UC Merced’s financial aid office; James put in a couple years of customer service with a Merced air conditioning company until the university was able to hire him as bookstore assistant director. His office was at the Castle complex as the bookstore came together in the library building under construction on campus.
“There were no doors, and mice running down the hallways,” Nardello said. “You had to put on a construction helmet to walk from your car into the building.”
In 2012, he made the key change from bookstore to TAPS, assuming his current role as Assistant Director. It’s a role that keeps him on the move, racking up frequent traveler miles on foot and in carts and other fleet vehicles.
“From day one, it’s been all about the people,” Nardello said. “I have absolutely loved the people I work with, my colleagues and the students. To be able to see the progress at the university over the years, the improvements, it’s been an unbelievable experience.
“For our team here at TAPS, when we see our students graduate, we’re out there with the pom poms. And we follow up to see where they’re going. That is what helps me wake up every day, knowing we made a positive difference.”