Magazine

Adventures in revenue control on campus: How a University Approached the Revenue Control Problem

Diana Perey and Bob Johnson

In these tight economic times, revenue control has become more critical than ever. Washington State has an almost 7 percent statewide unemployment rate with more pink slips to come. The state legislature mandated no raises for state employees, tuition has been increased once again, and a self-sustaining University of Washington Parking Services needs to raise the parking fees. Sound familiar?
The university's administration would frown upon any attempts to raise the parking permit fees for faculty, staff, or students, but have guardedly acquiesced to "looking" at slightly raising parking rates for visitors and special events. This is all well and good, but may fail to meet the anticipated expenses for the next biennium. So what other measures can be taken to increase revenue without a blatant price increase? What comes to mind is collecting every dollar that we are entitled to.
In other words, increased revenue control. If you can't raise the rates, you better collect it all. In our case, this involved tying many of our services to the university's ID card. As well as being used for a debit parking card, the cards can be scanned to see if the customer is entitled to a "free" parking pass. Students can park for free if they carpool and have two or three passengers with UPASSes IDs. Each card has to be scanned and this slows service, especially at the university's main entrances. But it successfully stopped a number of abuses and left more room for paying customers.
We also employ a pay-as-you-enter system. The full day's parking fee is paid for up front. The customer then receives a refund on the way out if their stay is under a specified time. A little over one-third of our paying customers stop for a refund, which unfortunately adds to the overall congestion of exiting traffic. However, this solved a 20 percent "slippage" problem that we had when we had a pay-as-you-exit system. Customers balk at the up-front cost, but are happy to receive the refund since the other option would be a non-refundable flat fee.
This pay-as-you-enter system is additionally used in our "flat-rate" student parking lot. The lot is gate arm regulated and has a capacity of a little over 3,000 spaces. It is used for carpool, debit and cash pay-per-day parking. When the lot operated under a pay-as-you-leave scheme, we experienced one and sometimes two or more broken gate arms per day. We lost the cost of the gate arm and the revenue for all of the vehicles that exited while the exit was uncontrolled. Since we have gone to the new system, we experience one or two broken gate arms a month. No one seems to want to "break into" the lot.
We also installed a computerized system that tracked completed transactions to each individual employee. Our previous system only tracked transactions by location and shortages or overages could not be accurately isolated to individuals. Among other things, the current system not only tells us the location of the transaction, but also what type of transaction it was (revenue, non-revenue), where the permit was assigned, the time is was issued or refunded, the amount charged or refunded (we have validation coupons for full and partial refunds and these are tracked also), the time, and exactly who performed the transaction.
There was resistance on the part of some employees to the implementation of the system, saying that it smacked of Big Brotherism, while others realized that it documented their efforts and protected their cash. It also allowed supervisors to more easily review what each employee was doing in the field and to review anomalies with their employees. Shortages and overages dropped dramatically with the installation of the new system. Individual responsibility should be a component of every revenue control system. As an added benefit, since all transactions are transmitted to a customer display, we are receiving fewer complaints of short-changing and fee miscalculation.
Another key component of revenue control is parking enforcement. Why pay to park if there are no consequences for not paying? We always had very good enforcement during the day but maintained a reduced presence at night. There were fewer classes, fewer students, and less traffic. But over the years all of the above have increased, but our revenue had not, and in some cases, even dropped. To combat this, we have increased our night enforcement staffing. Night citations increased each month. We expect that the increased enforcement will continue over the next quarter or two and that when citations begin to drop that legitimate revenue should increase.
We will continue to search for and plug up holes in our revenue control system. But we think that our many years of experience have provided us with one of the most efficient systems available. Even with the increased control, we have still managed to keep the inconvenience to our customers to a minimum unless, of course, they don't want to pay for their parking.

Bob Johnson is Planning Analyst
at the University of Washington
Parking Services in Seattle, and
Diana Perey is Director of Transportation at UW. She can be reached at dperey@u.washington.edu

Article Abstract from January, 2003




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