The Move Toward Merging Parking and Mobility
September 18, 2019
Transportation directors oversee a lot of moving pieces (literally). “If it moves to, from or within the UC San Diego campus or the hospitals of UC San Diego Health, chances are we are responsible for it,” said Josh Kavanagh, director of transportation for the University of California, San Diego. This includes, of course, parking — “in all its 31 flavors, from annual permits to valet.”
Once siloed, the campus parking program at UC San Diego — like its counterparts at other universities and cities across the country — has increasingly been folded in under the more all-encompassing “mobility” moniker. So how does this affect the parking experience?
Efforts to promote carpooling and other alternative means of transportation to the campus led to a decrease in YOY permits of about five percent over the last three years.
For Kavanagh, the evolution of his campus parking program into a “full-blown mobility program” has been a positive one. “I look at it less as a push away from parking and more towards a customer-centric approach,” said Kavanagh. “It allows the different travel modes to be operated as part of a single coherent system. For customers, this means we can offer solutions that are better tailored to their exact needs and priorities.”
Part of those solutions still deal specifically with parking. “Over the last year, we made long-overdue investments in capacity, parking guidance and mobile payments,” said Kavanagh.
The Broader Mobility Mission
Finding smarter solutions was one of the reasons the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) created its mobility management office during a department reorganization three-and-a-half years ago.
“It was a deliberate and conscious decision to help us create smart policies and manage our infrastructure,” said Jay Kim, assistant general manager for LADOT's mobility management office.
Like Kavanagh, Kim thinks the move has improved the parking experience. “Parking has benefitted because my office’s overall theme is to look to the future and try to improve the user experience,” said Kim. “Even though they were doing innovative things within the previous parking group, there is now a broader mission.’”
Included in that mission are things like creating a digital infrastructure that can mirror the physical infrastructure; managing curb space that is now contested by a variety of players, including business, valet, loading, e-commerce, delivery vehicles, and TNCs; and finding ways to unlock underutilized resources like downtown buildings that have excess parking supply.
Not far from downtown Los Angeles on the main campus of the University of Southern California, Tony Mazza, director of transportation for USC, has recently seen a parking inventory surplus. Efforts to promote carpooling and other alternative means of transportation to the campus led to a decrease in YOY permits of about five percent over the last three years.
“Our average vehicle ridership is now more than two people for vehicles coming to campus, said Mazza. “That’s an incredible shift.”
Mazza and his team were able to spot that shift and start looking for alternate revenue streams to fill their parking inventory, because the focus of his department had gone from “providing permits and managing our parking inventory to really understanding how, and more importantly, why our constituents choose to get to work or school in the manner they do,” said Mazza.
In this case, they responded by filling the parking spaces with cars from an outside source. “Our proximity to downtown Los Angeles created an opportunity to lease rooftop space in one of our largest parking structures to Downtown L.A. Motors, a consortium of local car dealerships, which has given us a much-needed new revenue stream,” said Mazza. He said the university was also expanding a partnership with international car-sharing service Maven.
Mazza noted that they have the opposite problem at USC’s Health Sciences Campus, which has a shortage of available parking spaces and doesn’t have the same transit opportunities that the main campus does. To alleviate this, “I am continually challenging my team to develop creative programs, including a revitalized carpool program that offers a free permit for vehicles with 3+ commuters,” said Mazza.
For Peter Lange, associate vice-president of transportation services for Texas A&M University, creatively addressing new challenges is something they are already focused on, but instead of using the now widely adopted word “mobility,” it’s about providing “access.”
“Our job is to facilitate access,” said Lange. “It’s something campuses have done forever and have been doing a good job at for a very long time.” At Texas A&M, that is quite a task as it means providing access to a 5,200-acre main campus with more than 35,000 parking spaces, and accommodating the more than 120,000 people who attend the university’s football games.
Lange said he feels that, in general, it has become easier for the average person to park on campus. Part of the reason is that his department has been creative in finding ways to work with parkers as habits change. For instance, after they created a series of visitor parking pockets on campus using hourly multi-space meters, the meters became so popular that many students opted out of their annual permits. This opened up needed space.
And a recently launched bike-sharing program taught them that the transportation habits of the typical student are less about just going to and from campus as they are mixing in multiple stops along the way, which will inform future projects.
While Lange said he hears a lot about curb management at parking conferences, he feels that, from a university perspective, it has more to do with managing the access — and then providing clear communication about that access. And that often, as new things evolve, they can draw on how they handled earlier issues.
“It’s really the same issues, just defined differently,” said Lange. He noted, for instance, that his department used a similar approach to adding the new bike-share program as they had used years earlier when FedEx started delivering to the campus; and that adding Uber and Lyft drop-off points on a game day was comparable to the approach they used to accommodate traditional hotel transportation.
“As an organization, we are always happy to take a fresh look at how we do things from the customer’s viewpoint,” said Lange. “It’s an extension of what we’ve always been doing.”
Creating a Nimble Organization
Continually taking a fresh look at the bigger transportation picture is one of the reasons for the focus on mobility. It’s also a way for transportation departments to harness their strengths and stay more flexible as they look to the future.
“We want to manage things in a way that makes us nimbler,” said Kim. “This way we can engage with the private sector and technology companies and be a responsible organization that is quick to respond. We want to be part of the early conversations, have a seat at the table, and thus help influence the outcome in a way that helps achieve our overall policy goals.”
“The future of parking and mobility will come down to one word: adaptability,” said Mazza. “The demand for parking will never fully disappear, but we have to adapt to the changing TDM landscape.”
Ann Shepphird is a technical writer for Parking Today. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
People Aren’t Abandoning Cars…Just Yet
What many people hear when the topic of mobility comes up is a move away from driving (and thus parking), but the truth is — in Los Angeles and elsewhere — people are not abandoning their cars just yet.
Jay Kim, assistant general manager for LADOT, points out that while they have made a concerted effort to get people to consider transit options — light rail, buses, ride-share, etc. — a number of other factors have kept the demand for parking high.
“Even though there are market forces trying to get people out of their cars, there are other forces that are putting more people back into their cars,” said Kim. These include a continuing rise in the driving population and the increased cost of living in the city, which has led some people to move farther out where transit options are not an option.
So, even though some people may be choosing to take public transit or ride shares or bike shares or scooters, it is not clear yet how much impact that is having (or will have in the future) when it comes to reducing the growth of parking demand.