Texas A&M Officials Conquer Campus Politics With Parking Surveys
Officials in the Texas A&M University Transportation Services Department took the bull by the horns when they were faced with justifying a rate increase for parking services: They conducted their own survey of rates and services at other universities. Using the information they gathered, which showed parking rates rising at college campuses, they proved their point and were given permission to implement a three-year rate-adjustment program.
Innovative approaches like this one are part of what earned TAMU Transportation the 2009 Parking Organization of the Year award from the International Parking Institute (IPI). It is the first time a university has earned this particular honor.
“I am very proud of this award, for two reasons,” said Rodney Weis, Executive Director of Transportation Services at Texas A&M. “It is great to have your peers recognize that you have developed an outstanding program and are one of the best in the industry, but I am more proud of the fact that it was awarded because of my team. They make this an award-winning program.”
Weis’ TAMU team had to convince the students, faculty and staff at the university that parking rates had to be increased. Three years ago, the transportation services department began conducting an informal survey to establish average parking rates at other campuses.
Kenneth M. Kimball, MBA, CPA, and Assistant Director for Fiscal Operations and Compliance for TAMU’s Transportation Services, prepares the surveys and analyzes the data once they are collected. Every year, the questions are tweaked for clarity and consistency. The initial survey provided enough justification for the rate increases that have been made over the last several years.
“Parking is so scrutinized on campus. I don’t know that any other department has to go through the ringer like we do. The reality of it is the way the state has set it up. Parking has to pay for itself through user fees,” Kimball said.
There were a total of 92 respondents this year, and compared with last year’s numbers, Kimball reports most universities who responded were raising rates.
This year’s survey showed that the average cost for a staff permit for a numbered surface lot space is $819. The high was $2,235 and the low was $50. A student commuter permit for a surface lot space averaged at $240, with a high of $1,158 and a low of $25. The average rate for a remote park-and-ride parking permit was $182, with a high of $1,188 and a low of $22.
Although only 22 respondents provided information for the cost of a numbered garage space, the results show a high premium, with an average rate at $1,343 and a high of $5,200.
The TAMU rate increase that has been implemented will go toward maintenance issues and plans for a new garage. Its Transportation Department handles a variety of services, including parking, bus transit and the university’s fleet of vehicles.
There are 100 parking lots and five garages at TAMU – more than any other university in the world, Kimball said – that add up to about 35,000 parking spaces. TAMU Transportation also manages 80 buses, which give an estimated 5.5 million rides a year.
The survey helped TAMU’s Transportation group establish a process by which parking rates could be implemented. The group’s survey identifies trends and averages at similar universities. Then a group of students, faculty and staff consider the facts and can approve or disapprove.
“It’s a matter of putting together good numbers and making projections to get where we need to be and then raising it a tiny bit each year,” Kimball said. “You never get 100%. but we were able to get it all passed, and we’ve come up with a specific plan through our committee on how to take this process forward in the future.”
Recent budget changes affect parking costs at TAMU the same way they do at many universities.
“As our state funding goes down, the general fees and tuition go up for the student. When the other fees get pressured, it’s important to us to keep fees down,” Kimball said. “We are there at the average where the industry is at – they are not being overcharged.”
The TAMU Transportation group has taken a unique and proactive approach to addressing the financial reality of the university’s parking costs and profits. In announcing the award, PI officials said that Texas A&M’s Transportation Services Department was selected for its “leadership and innovative solutions for the industry.”
“Being honored as Parking Organization of the Year is most appropriate for TAMU Transportation Services in view of your many contributions to the parking and transportation industry,” said Don Thornton, a member of the IPI award committee, in notifying Texas A&M officials of the award. Thornton is Director of Parking and Transportation Services at the University of Kentucky.
“The strength and recognition attained by the TAMU department over the past five years is a tribute to a talented staff and supporting university administration,” Thornton added. “Being Parking Organization of the Year is not only a compliment for the past, but also reflects upon the future of Transportation Services and Texas A&M University.”
Melissa Bean Sterzick is PT’s roving reporter, proofreader and Amateur Parker. She can be reached at Melissa@parkingtoday.com