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Is Parking Unique at Universities? These U of T Directors say Yes

By Jeri Baker

At the University of Texas at Austin, industry veterans Bob Harkins is Associate VP for Campus Safety and Security and Bobby Stone is Director of Parking and Transportation Services. Parking Today asked them to share some thoughts on what is “unique” about university campus parking. Their comments were gathered and reported by Jeri Baker, an Assistant Director of UT Austin’s Parking and Transportation Services department. Here’s what they had to say. Editor.
Does understanding parking today on a university campus require years of research and a post-doctorate degree in finance?
A bit tongue-in-cheek, but university parking can be confusing if you do not understand a few basic rules for the environment. First, most university parking systems are self-funded. Here in Texas, state law requires state universities to have fully self-funded parking operations.
For example, Parking and Transportation Services (PTS) is a fully self-funded auxiliary department of UT Austin, and is tasked with generating the funds needed to provide, maintain and regulate parking on campus. Without any of the tax base given to the university system or any student tuition or fees for parking, we have to capture as much revenue as possible from our 15,000 parking spaces.
Based on our state-mandated structure, we have no choice but to charge those who use our services, and by charging everyone, including faculty, staff, students, contractors, vendors and visitors, we keep the cost down for all. By minimizing expenses and setting prices based on cost-recovery, we operate like a nonprofit, providing service at the lowest prices.
Using your communication degree to reach your customers!
You cannot have just one form of communication these days or you will miss a segment of your audience. Using technology, we are able to reach out to all of our target audiences. Although the average age of our primary customer base is young and inexperienced, they are more technologically advanced than previous generations.
It’s a big challenge for the university community to keep up with communication gadgets, to ensure communication is fresh and current, and to reach out to a diverse customer base ranging from faculty, staff, and students to community members in the surrounding area.
Using social media such as Twitter and Facebook and group texting, as well as more traditional forms of communication – such as informational emails, closed-circuit TV spots, website information and print media – we attempt to reach out to the wide and diverse customer base utilizing parking at UT Austin.
Using your education degree to inform your customers!
To keep parking prices down for everyone, we need to look for new ways to use our resources. In many cases, that means using the space one way during the normal operations of the university – capturing permit revenue – and a totally different way in the evenings and on weekends by collecting event and visitor parking revenue.
Keep in mind that as the usage of a space becomes more diversified, the accompanying signage becomes more complicated as well. By capturing as many of the available revenue streams as possible for these spaces and by having everyone who uses the services pay a portion, the university is able to keep the permit and event parking prices down for all faculty, staff, students and visitors who park on campus.
This can be a hard sell, especially if someone does not understand our system. We often hear from patrons attending an event that they “paid their taxes” or “paid for concert tickets,” feeling they should not also have to pay for parking. Given the opportunity to explain it to them, generally, they understand our constraints and our funding model.
Using your sociology degree to understand your customers!
The needs of our entire customer base must be taken into consideration. Most university communities are made up of a very diverse population. We are tasked with serving this entire population by providing them with not only parking but also transportation opportunities so they can get to and from campus.
We cannot just cater our parking and transportation efforts to the affluent – we have to offer options on a varying range of prices and convenience to help meet everyone’s needs. As our budget is based on self-sufficiency rather than profit, our operational goal is equity of our resources.
It’s important to have a balanced mix of options, including low-cost permits exclusive for evening and weekend use to access to the gyms, libraries and student centers, as well as alternative transportation that meets our customers’ needs.
Using your economics degree to shape transportation for the campus!
If you are at a landlocked university, economics – including one of the elementary tenets of supply and demand – shapes campus. UT Austin has a supply of only 15,000 parking spaces. Our demand comes from the 75,000 individuals a day who come to campus, including faculty, staff, students, contractors, vendors and visitors. If every single person drove a single-occupancy vehicle, only 20% would have a place to park.
It’s not only the right thing to do from a sustainability perspective, but at UT Austin, it is reality.
We have the leading campus shuttle system, logging more than 5 million passengers annually; 32,000 average daily boardings; approximately 1.89 million miles traveled, and thousands of pounds of C02 saved each year.
With these impressive annual numbers, UT Austin is able to lead the way in environmental stewardship and in balancing the needs of the university while sustaining successful parking operations.
Being a parking expert on a university campus!
While one doesn’t have to be a Finance Communication Education Sociology Economics Professor to understand, manage and direct parking on a university campus, it certainly doesn’t hurt to understand a few basic quirks about campus parking operations: Most are not profit-based, most have a greater demand than supply, most have to balance a widely diverse population, and most have to get folks to and from campus in something other than a single-occupancy vehicle to make it work.
Come to think of it, perhaps university campus parking isn’t that unique after all.
Jeri Baker can be r­­eached at jeri.baker@austin.utexas.edu.

Article Abstract from September, 2011




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