A Day in the Life at the University of British Columbia … Without Parking?
The University of British Columbia (UBC) is no different from most in that parking services have traditionally been ancillary to the university. Given the economic conditions and challenges that face all post-secondary institutions, universities are forced to seek the greatest possible return. They are, however, very different from other parking agencies such as municipalities and commercial entities in that the university’s parking customers are also members of its community and population: the students, faculty and staff.
The UBC, on picturesque Point Grey on the west side of Vancouver, Canada, boasts a spectacular natural setting. Students, faculty and staff come from all over the world to be a part of the UBC community and have a unique and memorable experience.
When I first joined the UBC community in 1990, there weren’t many transportation options. Secluded in a natural environment about 10 kilometers from city center, the UBC Vancouver campus is less accessible than most downtown universities. Although public transit served UBC in the 1990s, bus service was sporadic, and as a result, most people studying and working on campus drove there daily.
In those days, more than 15,000 commuter parking stalls were available. Today, despite increased enrollment and a growing number of faculty and staff (daytime population more than 65,000), there are only 9,000 commuter parking stalls on campus, a decrease of 40% over a 20-year period.
The landscape, both physically and socio-economically, has changed, and over recent years the UBC has been working with Metro Vancouver’s transit authority and the UBC community to provide a variety of sustainable, efficient commuting options that will allow community members to “leave their cars at home.”
One goal of the UBC Sustainability Initiative is to “make (the) UBC a living laboratory in environmental sustainability by combining its sustainability leadership in teaching, research, and operations.” To this end, the university is endeavouring to become carbon-neutral; reducing the number of people commuting each day is a crucial component of meeting that goal.
Currently, about 15% of students live on campus; the other 85% are required to commute.
The introduction of the U-Pass (discounted universal bus pass for students) in 2004 has resulted in an increase in transit ridership from 25% to 50% of commuting students. With the university’s plan to build additional student housing, it is anticipated that 50% of students will live on campus. Moreover, residential communities – which include rental housing for students, faculty and staff – continue to be developed on university-owned lands.
Cycling and walking routes on and near campus also encourage UBC community members to make more sustainable transportation choices.
This shift toward integrated living, working and studying environments and sustainable practices has wide-reaching implications for the future of parking at the UBC. The continued development of the campus into a university town limits parking and favors the designation of parking stalls for carpools, car-sharing and low-emission vehicles. Also, the reduced number of commuting students will support the continued reduction of parking stalls on campus.
The UBC seeks to attract topnotch faculty and staff. The inability to provide “complimentary” or inexpensive parking on campus could become a lightning rod that overshadows many of the great benefits that come with working and studying here. However, the UBC Employee Transit pass encourages faculty and staff to consider transit as an affordable commuting option.
UBC’s Parking & Access Control Services (PACS) introduced the first pay-and-display parking equipment on campus in 1996 and has continued to introduce technology through the years.
Back in 2000, we developed a web-based lottery system that allows students to apply and pay for parking permits online, thus reducing frustrations for students and staff alike. In 2006, the FlexPass was launched that allowed commuting students, faculty and staff a flexible parking option. With parking a market-driven commodity on campus, customers were, for the first time, afforded the ability to customize “specific” parking options.
UBC’s PACS has recognized through time that success comes with foresight. At first via browsers, e-commerce, RFID and now through smartphones, the department continues to embrace technology and seek creative ways to streamline parking and service delivery on campus.
Initiatives moving forward include bundling the UBCcard (student ID card) with iClass (smartcard) chip technology, so that all cardholders can use a single card on campus that facilitates multiple uses from verifying their identities, commerce, IT access, and access to building and parking facilities.
UBC’s Parking & Access Control Services has become and will remain an industry leader in order to provide exemplary service to the students, faculty and staff who are required to drive their cars to campus. We will continue to strive to find a balance between customer needs and wants, sustainability initiatives, and the university’s economic needs.
The business model for parking services must shift as the university’s objectives and community shift. There undoubtedly will be more challenges ahead, but we are committed to seeing those challenges as opportunities to improve our campus community, rather than obstacles to be overcome.
Danny Ho is Director of Parking & Access Control Services at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. He can be reached at email@example.com.