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Expand Your Parking Paradigm to Meet Diverse Needs

by Susan A. Kirkpatrick, Ph.D.

Susan Kirkpatrick is director of plant operations planning at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan. She is a member of APPA's Information Services Committee.

Many from the campus community might say that to meet or exceed customer parking expectations is to figure out how to park all customers, free of charge, near the front door. A quick assessment of this traditional thought and practice will lead one to conclude that, for the 1990s, this is not realistic in terms of campus master planning and available space. For our present and future direction, we are looking at the wrong solution; therefore, we need to expand our parking paradigm.

One Permit Fits All?

No longer is the traditional one-permit-fits-all approach the best solution for the majority of colleges and universities. Campus communities are experiencing more and more diverse access needs. For example, a professor might be dropped off on Monday and Tuesday, commute by motorcycle on Wednesday and Thursday, and take the bus to work on Fridays and use a university vehicle during the day. Family needs might require that the individual, on occasion, drive his or her car. Multiple options increasingly are needed to better serve and meet current access requirements cost effectively.

Provide a Menu of Options

A menu of options should present multiple choices for the customer to choose from allowing access to the worksite. Thus, driving a car becomes one of many available choices. Ideally, the menu of options offers a better approach to driving a vehicle such that the increased popularity and use of options, at minimum, corresponds to the decrease in the core-area parking supply.

As the parking supply is moved to the perimeter of campus, building and maintaining a system of parking structures as the sole parking solution is not likely to be a cost-effective approach. For example, why not figure out how to share resources that are not used to capacity with the surrounding community? Perhaps the local high school or shopping center has extra space, which could result in a win-win arrangement. This might actually be a good solution for the customer.

Integrate Parking and Transportation with the Surrounding Community

Especially for urban campuses, integration of parking and transportation systems with the surrounding community might provide a better service for customers at a reduced cost. For many, this opportunity is a recent phenomenon.

For many colleges and universities, facilities are expanding and replacing core-area surface parking lots, space increasingly is at a premium to maintain the image of a pedestrian-oriented campus, and deferred maintenance on existing parking structures is climbing. The expanded parking paradigm should encompass a variety or menu of options to meet the diverse needs of today s campus community to get from home to the worksite. In such a case, parking a vehicle in a structure becomes one of many choices.

This article focuses on the paradigm shift and planning implications applicable to those colleges and universities that are experiencing a perceived parking shortage, customer perceptions of high parking costs, increasing costs to operate and maintain a parking system, and customer dissatisfaction with the parking system. Present and future parking solutions may be found in a changing parking paradigm.

The University of Michigan in 1990
Planning Approach/Traditional Parking System

The Planning Focus

For many colleges and universities, planners have focused on the number of vehicles within given parking parameters. Considerable energy has been focused on the management of vehicles and pedestrians within the boundaries of the parking area. Current parking technology has contributed to this planning focus with a pay-on-foot approach for structures, central pay stations for surface lots, smart cards, debit cards, proximity cards, and so on. Planners have been bombarded with issues, concerns and solutions, within the parking space boundaries. Traditional master planning guidelines also have contributed to this planning focus.

Many colleges and universities have successfully implemented a pedestrian orientation to the campus environment. As a result of this direction, parking is being located at perimeter or off-site locations. Typically, with this approach, the need for transportation has correspondingly increased. The planning focus has remained within the boundaries of the parking areas as planners have attempted to match and manage vehicle demand to space availability. Over the years, many strategies have been developed to manage the increasing demand for limited parking space.

As parking administrators match various forms and combinations of reserved parking, zoned parking, and open parking to their campus cultures, the planning focus remains directed at single-occupant vehicles within designated parking boundaries.

At many colleges and universities, regardless of the system that is used to manage vehicles within designated parking boundaries at perimeter locations, customer dissatisfaction with parking appears to be increasing. Customers are lamenting that convenient parking space is not available, thus hindering their ability to perform their jobs, and that the cost of parking is rising at times, faster than salaries. At the same time, many parking administrators are being faced with deferred maintenance, escalating operating and maintenance costs, and increasing customer demand for a decreasing supply of parking.

Because many customers no longer considered the traditional system to be successful, the University of Michigan identified the need to expand planning beyond the traditional parking paradigm. The goal of providing every employee a reasonable method to get to work was initially established. The phrase get to work was not limited to mean from the parking lot to the office, but was expanded to include from the home to the worksite and expanded further to include circulation throughout the day to conduct university business.

Characteristics of the University of Michigan Parking System: 1990

The University of Michigan had 21,600 parking spaces within 230 surface parking lots and 9 parking structures, that range in age from 5 to 36 years old and vary in capacity from 443 to 2,000 parking spaces. A staff paid parking permit provided faculty and staff a hunting license for any designated staff paid parking space throughout the system. This non-reserved parking policy accounted for the consistently high occupancy rates approximately 97 to 99 percent as compared to the industry standard of 90 percent considered fully occupied. The lack of dependable parking contributed to a high level of anger and frustration.

Increasingly, employees were saying that they could no longer afford to park on campus, but they had very few alternative options. As a result, planners gave careful consideration was given to cost-effective strategies in determining the best approach to expand and modify the parking system.

The Traditional Parking Paradigm Might Not Be Working

The following factors, experienced at the University of Michigan and most likely at many colleges and universities, have contributed to the increasing customer and administration dissatisfaction with parking systems, which traditionally were perceived as successful.

Cost

The cost of parking is escalating in comparison to the perceived value.
New parking structures. Depending on the size and site constraints, cost per space can range from $12,000 to $18,000. These costs typically are shared throughout the system. Thus, some customers benefit directly from a new structure whereas others continue to use older facilities while receiving no direct benefit from the new structure.

Surface parking lots. Depending on lot size, cost per space can range from $1,800 to $3,000. Because planners are now sensitive to the importance of aesthetics and the reduction of deferred maintenance, initial construction costs have increased. Lots today have concrete curbs and gutters, as opposed to bituminous curbing. A heavy-duty bituminous drive is need if buses drive into the lot. In addition, good lighting, landscaping, sidewalks, barrier-free access, emergency phones, and campus directories are now required. Because these costs typically are shared throughout the system, some customers will benefit directly from the new lots, whereas others will continue to use older facilities.

Deferred maintenance costs are adding up for many older structures and surface lots where security, aesthetics, and quality construction might not have been a priority in the past.

As parking continues to be moved to perimeter locations or off-site locales transportation costs are increasing and typically are passed on to the customer.

Declining Supply

As the supply of core-area parking space continues to decline, perceived parking solutions are typically not in place.

Many core-area surface parking lots are future building sites. As building expansion continues, core-area parking continues to be reduced at a time when the demand for such parking is increasing.

As competition increases for a reduced supply of core-area parking space, access to buildings for service may be interrupted.

Trends

The following trends contribute to customer and administrator dissatisfaction with current parking systems:

In the absence of customer-perceived solutions to traditional inexpensive, convenient, front-door parking, customer dissatisfaction continues to grow.

The University of Michigan identified the need to expand planning beyond the traditional parking paradigm and looked at how faculty, staff, and students get from home to their worksite and access various locations throughout the day.

Planning Assumptions Initially Identified

Strategic planners expanded the parking paradigm to address how faculty, staff, and students get from home to their worksite and to access various locations during the course of the day. Planning for parking now included figuring out solutions in addition to parking a vehicle in a university facility. The following planning assumptions were initially identified:

Goals Identified

Also through strategic planning, the following overall goals were identified:

Expanded Paradigm for Planning

Facility managers are being challenged at both ends of the continuum. They must develop fair and customer-focused parking strategies, prioritize the use of decreasing core-area interior parking resources, understand the explosion in parking technology, and provide cost-effective parking solutions. At the same time, facility managers must catch up with deferred maintenance and address the widely held perception that safe and convenient parking can only be provided next to the front door.

To meet this challenge, the parking paradigm must be expanded. In the past, planning focused on the number of vehicles within given parking parameters. As the number of available sites decreases and the cost to develop and operate parking systems increases, campus communities are demanding more cost-effective solutions. An expanded parking paradigm must have a more comprehensive view of the entire transportation infrastructure, including alternative ways to get from home to the worksite. For many colleges and universities, the challenge is how to update and improve existing parking systems that do not meet the needs of a diverse campus community.

Planning that started once a vehicle reached a parking area now encompasses options for getting from home to the worksite. Driving a vehicle to core-area parking becomes one of many options to choose from. The expanded paradigm has become necessary because 1) many colleges and universities cannot operate and maintain the traditional expansion of surface lot and structure parking in a cost-effective manner; 2) the campus community typically is not willing to pay the increasing cost; 3) increasingly, space is not available as we strive for a pedestrian-oriented campus; and 4) the traditional parking system of one vehicle per person no longer meets the diverse needs of all customers.

What might a menu of parking options look like? If the future parking paradigm requires first knowing the customers, to meet their needs and provide better service, the menu of options will differ slightly from one institution to another. The University of Michigan offers the following menu of parking options.

Menu of Parking Options

The following menu of options is listed from the most expensive to the least expensive. A traditional color-code system was established for ease of customer use, ease in marketing, and ease in adding future options. With the color-coded system, the permit color is matched to the sign color.

parking options/chart

To a large extent, the success of a menu of parking options depends on flexibility and the ease of using multiple options. For 10, 20, and even 30 years, many faculty and staff have used the traditional permit to park as close as possible to their offices. Being completely cut off from core-area parking was too much of a change for many customers. Flexibility was required so that this option would always be available if needed.

Flexibility

Many faculty and staff lamented that they would like to take advantage of the bus pass program or use a Park & Ride lot from which they could quickly reach the grocery store or dry cleaners. But they were worried that occasionally they would need to have access to their cars during the day. The following options provide the flexibility needed:

Assessment

Goals established for a menu of parking options have been met as far as the following are concerned: 1) a voluntary reduction in the demand for core-area parking, 2) availability of space during the day throughout the parking system in most locations, and 3) the ability to meet most of the parking demand, provide better service, and reduce cost. The options have been perceived as cost effective to the customer; that is, the cost matches the convenience level and/or the approach meets the customer s needs. Thus, the expanded parking paradigm of providing a menu of options for getting from home to the worksite meets the following requirements:

As university communities become increasingly diversified, no longer does one parking solution fit all needs. Each option must be targeted to meet the needs of a specific market segment. For example, the bus pass program, as popular as it is, is a viable solution only for those customers who live in the surrounding community where driving to a Park & Ride lot or a Green lot would require more time. The key is to talk to and know the customers and to be able to propose possible solutions based on their feedback.

Sharing Resources or Partnering with the Surrounding Community

Especially for urban colleges and universities, maintaining separate systems for parking and transportation no longer makes sense in terms of providing the best service in the most costeffective manner. For many, the parking paradigm needs to be expanded further to explore sharing resources with the surrounding community.

Parking and Transportation Consortium

For the University of Michigan, the first step was to form the Parking and Transportation Consortium with representatives from University Relations, University Planning, University Parking Services, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (AATA), the City of Ann Arbor, and the Downtown Development Authority (DDA). To date, the consortium has developed and guided the Park & Ride system and the Bus Pass Program (see Menu of Options, p.33), which are creative ways to reduce operating costs and meet the unique needs of commuting faculty, staff, and students.

Opportunities

The group synergy has resulted in many exciting opportunities that are currently being considered by the consortium. Student parking has not only been a problem plaguing the university, the DDA parking system, the City of Ann Arbor, and its surrounding neighbors, but it has also been problematic for students. A comprehensive solution needs the involvement of the university, the DDA, the city, and AATA working together. When many people within the campus community need to reach both university and community locations throughout the day, integration of transportation systems will likely result in better service for the customer and be a more cost effective operation.

To what extent can card technology integrate university parking and transportation with community parking and transportation systems? Could one card be used for city and university buses, parking facilities, central pay stations, and meters, as well as at restaurants, book stores, and so on? Increasingly, a change in one area affects everyone. Ideally, change will be planned, marketed, and implemented together to the benefit of the university and the surrounding community.

Summary

Planning that traditionally started once a vehicle reached a parking area now encompasses options to get from home to the worksite. Thus, the parking goal is to provide every employee a reasonable method to get to work. For many colleges and universities, this goal has become a necessity for several reasons: many institutions cannot cost effectively operate and maintain the traditional expansion of surface-lot and structure parking; the campus community is increasingly unwilling to pay the escalating cost of parking; and the traditional parking system of one vehicle per person no longer meets the diverse needs of all customers.

The keys to expanding the parking paradigm and implementing a successful menu of parking options are an understanding of customers needs and their perceptions of solutions, as well as a willingness by all involved to be receptive to trying new ideas. Another key to success is flexibility to access multiple options to best fit diverse lifestyles. Ideally, the expanded parking paradigm will be a source of revenue to maintain existing parking assets from those employees who choose to pay the cost for convenience, minimal expansion of existing parking assets, and cost-effective (in customers perception) options, such as the Park & Ride system and the Bus Pass Program, to creatively meet an increasing demand for effective access to the worksite.