Magazine

Pay As You Park Versus Permit Parking

Bill Bergstrom

At the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee (UWM), we have been working over a number of years to switch our faculty/staff parking permit system to a pay-as-you-park program. We implemented this program in response to customer complaints about a one-size-fits-all permit system and to meet our mission goals of getting more of our customers to use alternative transportation to get to campus.
UWM is a campus of 25,000 students and 4,000 faculty and staff in a densely populated residential neighborhood on the city's northeast side. The campus is landlocked and restricted to 90 acres by state statute. We have only 1,900 on-campus parking spaces; there are four parking ramps and eight surface lots. We are constructing a 632-space parking ramp under our new Athletic and Sports Medicine Center.
The experiment with the students, although not perfect, did show us that when faced with paying every day for parking, they thought about alternatives more often. Plus, removing the permit also removed any feeling that parking on campus was a guarantee. Now it was first-come, first-served. However, due to the expense, students learned to use on-campus parking when necessary and for as little time as needed.
Four years ago, we turned our attention to staff. They were complaining about the lack of parking and the cost.
The traditional parking permit for the faculty and staff had always been a yearly permit. The staff got frustrated when they couldn't find a space and called us: "I paid for a space. Where is it?" The second reason was because parking fees are relatively expensive on our campus. The outdoor permit costs $695/year. The reserved permit in one of our four ramps is $1,200/year.
The UWM parking operation also had problems in that many faculty were part time and many full-time faculty did their research off-campus. They had to buy a full-time parking permit at the full-time price, even if they taught only one or two classes. Plus, once they purchased a permit, why shouldn't they use it and get their money's worth?
In various discussions, the Parking Department came to realize that if faculty and staff were made to pay as they park (as the students do), they might be more willing to utilize alternative transportation. If it worked, this would ease the parking crunch while at the same time eliminating complaints from faculty who were not on-campus full time.
Once a decision was reached that developing a pay-as-you-park program was feasible, the next question was how to do it. The first problem was that the faculty and staff would always have to have cash on hand, which would be an inconvenience. The second problem would be a dramatic increase in their parking rates (almost doubling). The third problem would be that they would inevitably receive more parking tickets.
We turned to new technology for a solution. The in-vehicle parking meter designed for the densely populated cities of Europe showed potential for our application. We are using Smart Park by Ganis Smart Park Systems, which is distributed in America by T2 Systems. With Smart Park, we can set parking rates unique to the meters, we can set zones for different parking charges in different areas, and we can increase those rates when and if needed to cover future expenses. Plus, the meter can be displayed in the vehicle similar to a parking permit or an operating in-car meter.
But there would still be more parking tickets than with the permit system simply because parkers had to turn on the in-vehicle meter every day they used it. We did not hide from the fact that when a parker was rushed, they would either forget to put the meter up or forget to turn it on.
We created a new parking fine for in-vehicle meters that were not turned on. This fine recovered the cost of parking for the day, and we doubled that cost as an incentive for parkers to remember their meters. Even though tickets were written, the reduced fine helped make the violation far less adversarial.
There was only one catch that we knew would slow down any quick acceptability. The in-vehicle meter itself was considerably more expensive than a parking permit. We had to recover some of those upfront costs from our customers. We did this by charging a one-time administrative fee, plus a deposit.
The Smart Park in-vehicle meter system we use has two parts. The first is the meter itself, which hangs in the vehicle on the rear-view mirror or is placed on the dashboard. The meter is battery-operated. When operating, it flashes a green light and the amount of time purchased. When not working correctly, it flashes red or the screen is blank. The Parking Enforcement officer can easily see whether the meter is working. The second part of the system is a debit smart card. Customers go to the Parking Office to pay to put time on the smart card. Every time it is inserted into the in-vehicle meter, an amount is deducted.
In four years of the program, we have sold 1,362 in-vehicle meters. Long-term on-campus parking permits are now in the minority (under 200, and they may soon be eliminated all together).
Customer satisfaction is high. The faculty and staff have accepted the idea of paying for parking on a per-day basis. Also, we have noticed that more of them were willing to use the extensive park-and-ride program to save money. Another plus for this program was the fact that it never implied they were guaranteed on-campus parking. Customers don't pay for parking unless they find a space. If they can't find on-campus parking, they haven't paid for it.
Additionally, we actually increased our budget revenue collections because of the "float." When we sold parking permits, we had an influx of money at one time. With the in-vehicle meter program, we have constant paid parking time that was purchased but not used yet.
However, we soon learned that the in-vehicle meter program is far more labor intensive for office staff than the annual parking permit program. With the meter program, customers return to our office two to four times a year to recharge their smart card. This goes on all year long. The Parking Offices are in the Student Union at the center of campus. Seeing our customers on a regular basis opened up new roads of communication; this has proved beneficial to us and them.
In the end, the switch to the pay-as-you-park program has worked well. With the in-vehicle meter, customers can use the bus or the park-and-ride system and not feel uneasy about not having a way to park on-campus if they needed to. Plus, and most important, the in-vehicle meter program did not have a negative impact on our budget. Our customers still need to park and they pay for it.

Bill Burgstrom has 27 years in the parking business, and currently is Operations Manager for the Parking & Transit Department at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

Article Abstract from February, 2005




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