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Parking and Transportation Management on a University Campus
By Seamus Wilmot, Director of Parking & Transportation at University of California, Berkeley
A parking space on a university campus must serve a wide range of competing needs. It must provide parking for: permit holders, visitors, sporting events, performing arts centers, academic events, and just the normal commerce of a large university. Trying to meet all of these needs with limited supply is very challenging, especially when that supply is usually seen as a land bank for any new construction. When a new building goes up, hundreds, if not thousands, of parking spaces can disappear and the cost to create a new parking space can range from $25,000 to over $60,000 per space. Urban universities face the biggest challenge as they are often landlocked and any new parking must be in a parking structure, integrated into a building, or underground, all of which add thousands of dollars to the expense of the space.
Universities must develop robust alternative programs to reduce the demand for parking even though each vehicle they divert from campus may mean less revenue to pay for those alternatives. Universities may provide several parking alternatives including transit subsidies, a campus shuttle to get people around campus, carpool incentives, car share programs, bike share programs, and a portion of parking permit pricing will discourage driving.
To encourage drivers, especially single occupancy vehicle (SOV) drivers to get out of their cars, alternatives must be easy to access and understand; this is one of the areas where technology can help. In the San Francisco Bay Area, many of the transit agencies utilize Clipper Card® to enable payments. An employer can provide the ability for employees to purchase pre-tax transit value and load it onto a Clipper Card® giving an easy way to pay on multiple transit lines.
To pay for these programs, universities must make efficient use of minimal parking inventory. Real-time occupancy data can help. Push this data out to your commuting population through a mobile app or their connected car; they can get real-time data as they get close to campus and drive directly to the lot with open spaces rather than blindly drive to a full parking lot, look for a non-existent space, get frustrated, anddrive to a different lot.
With accurate occupancy data, you can better predict when and where your peak demand will hit, and you can better support other uses on campus. When an academic department says they would like to host a conference on campus and they would like to provide parking for 150 vehicles, without accurate data you will have a hard time supporting this event. With accurate data, you can accommodate the department by knowing that at 3 pm, a particular parking lot begins to empty and you can feel comfortable knowing that 150 parking spaces will be available by 4 pm. Without this data, youmay have to say no to this event. Accurate occupancy data also helps to manage the pricing in the lots. Knowing the demand patterns in your lots, you can control some of the demand through dynamic or geo-targeted pricing, raising the price during known peak times and lowering prices at outlying lots.
Mobile payments can also help permit holders and visitors manage their parking. With a payment app, visitors can park their car, pay for the time they want, and receive text message reminders of when their parking time is going to expire at which point they can either return to their car or add time to their parking session, avoiding a parking citation.
One of the big technology improvements for universities is implementing a program where the license plate is the parking permit. Permit holders can register their license plate, visitors can pay through internet-connected pay-kiosks or a mobile app, and this data is fed, real-time, to parking enforcement staff. Parking enforcement vehicles are equipped with license plate recognition (LPR) hardware and software; staff can quickly drive these vehicles through the lots and determine who has paid for parking and who has not, protecting the limited parking spaces for those who have paid. A fixed LPR system can also be used with gated parking structures where the system reads the plate and lifts the gate, offering a seamless operation.
As universities run out of land on which to provide parking, the high costs to provide new parking, and the exciting, yet unknown future of transportation, some universities are looking at installing mechanical parking. Mechanical parking provides the advantage of parking more vehicles in a limited amount of space. It is like warehousing cars; they are stacked on racks like shelves in a big box store. The mechanical parking can be quicker to build, and the structure is not a concrete building that stands for 40-50 years. Mechanical parking may also work well for efficiently storing vehicles of the future, autonomous vehicles.
The incredible growth of ride-sharing companies like Lyft and Uber has also had a profound effect on the movement of traffic to and around many campuses. You need to be pro-active to manage the curb space. Similar solutions to real-time occupancy sensors in combination with LPR technology may help implement a curb management program that provides the needed space for passenger loading and unloading, but also recognizes the value of that space and has a mechanism to have ride sharing vendors contribute funds to the transportation network.
It is an exciting time to be involved with transportation, and a university campus provides an excellent petri dish for testing new technologies.