Transforming Campus Mobility: UT Arlington’s Year of Innovation 


Transforming Campus Mobility: UT Arlington’s Year of Innovation 


At the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA), innovation is not just a buzzword. It is a way of life that fuels our ambition. Over the past year, our Parking & Transportation Services (PATS) department launched or expanded five groundbreaking programs, fundamentally transforming campus mobility. 


Although we did not plan to implement five big changes in one year, they all aligned following years of groundwork, strategic partnerships, and timely opportunities. This is the story of how we achieved this remarkable feat. 


Redefining Campus Transportation 

Our journey began not with a master plan to implement five innovative programs in one year, but with a commitment to continuously improve and address our own operational bottlenecks. We consistently worked on solving pressing problems and partnering with innovative thinkers from industry and our campus research community. This year, our efforts coalesced in a way that brought multiple projects to fruition simultaneously. 


In August 2023, we unveiled a suite of innovations that would redefine campus transportation: 

  • Self-driving shuttle program expansion
  • AI-enabled parking finder app
  • Daily upgrade program
  • Plastic Roads parking lots
  • Smart-flex reserved zone program


The staff of the Parking & Transportation Services (PATS) department at the University of Texas at Arlington.
The staff of the Parking & Transportation Services (PATS) department at the University of Texas at Arlington.

We took a significant leap forward by expanding our self-driving shuttle program, the nation’s longest-running program of its kind. This extension seamlessly integrated autonomous vehicles into campus and city transportation networks. With supplemental funding secured for an additional 2.5 years, this initiative underscores our commitment to cutting-edge technology and cost-effective solutions, with a departmental out-of-pocket cost of only $15,000. To date, this service has provided more than 60,000 rides. 


The launch of our AI-enabled UTA Parking Finder app marked a pivotal shift in parking management. Digitizing 100% of campus parking spaces, the app enables users to find available parking in real time based on their parking permit permissions, revolutionizing the wayfinding experience and providing more clarity for customers. We also began installing parking occupancy sensors to feed data into the app, enabling users to see current and predicted future occupancy. Currently, 61% of our parking lots are equipped with some type of occupancy sensors. This figure is slated to increase to 85% in three years, showcasing our dedication to technological enhancement. 


Pablo Picasso is attributed with saying, Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” Taking this slogan to heart, we stole” the daily parking permit concept developed by Dr. Perry Eggleston, Executive Director of Transportation Services at the University of California-Davis. We set out to provide drivers a way to park for the day in underutilized parking areas, while limiting how many permits can be purchased daily.  Our innovative approach to resource optimization enables permit holders to access previously restricted areas for the day, optimizing underutilized parking facility space and creating a new revenue stream. The program is expected to surpass $100,000 in new revenue from users willing to pay a bit more, providing value-added services without additional costs to UTA. 


The university expanded its self-driving shuttle program, the longest-running program of its kind in the nation.
The university expanded its self-driving shuttle program, the longest-running program of its kind in the nation.

In a global first, we used plastic-infused asphalt, known as Plastic Roads, to repair two parking areas, setting a new standard in sustainable parking solutions. By repurposing 4 tons of plastic — enough to fill 15 garbage trucks — this initiative doubled the lifespan of the asphalt, reducing long-term capital expenses and promoting environmental consciousness. Because we were already planning to repair these lots, it made sense to support our faculty’s research and utilize their technology, even if the cost was slightly higher.


We have long known that individually reserved parking spaces were underutilized and inefficient, yet simultaneously a highly prized commodity on a college campus. In fact, reserved parking on a college campus is the most inefficient use of parking resources possible. The stars aligned this year with administrative buy-in, a pressing need for increased parking capacity, and ongoing construction projects that provided the perfect excuse.  


When opportunity knocked, we seized it with a pilot. We transformed 87% of our reserved parking spaces into shared zones, significantly increasing parking capacity and saving costs. This program increased capacity by 138 spaces, saved $52,328 in permit costs its first semester, and deferred $690,000 in new construction expenses. Survey results overwhelmingly supported the change, with comments like, “This was an inspired change,” highlighting its positive reception. 


The Power of Partnerships: Collaborating for Success 

Success in these endeavors was not achieved in isolation. It required assembling a cross-functional team of experts who could focus on their areas of expertise. In the hustle and bustle of a university setting, innovation often takes a backseat to immediate operational demands. However, by identifying and empowering key players, we ensured that our initiatives had the dedicated attention they needed. 


Faculty researchers lent their expertise and secured grant funding, industry partners provided cutting-edge technologies, and campus operations offered a practical testing ground. This collaborative ecosystem enabled us to drive innovation and achieve remarkable outcomes.  


To launch the self-driving shuttles, we partnered with the City of Arlington, researchers in our civil engineering department, the autonomous technology provider May Mobility, and the public transportation software maker Via. 


For the UTA Parking Finder app, Mistall Insight, Inc., provided the data hub and camera sensors; Modii developed the Parking finder app; and Parking Logix provided the sensors. The daily upgrade program was developed by means of the AIMS Parking Management Software from the EDC Corporation. 


For the Plastic Roads parking lots, partners included researchers in UTA’s Department of Civil Engineering, the paving contractor Pavement Services, the asphalt producer Austin Asphalt, and the Texas Department of Transportation. 


Implementing these projects was not without its challenges. One of the biggest hurdles involved making decisions without having all the information. However, I have always believed that you do not need 99% of the data to move forward. Instead, it is about leveraging trusted partners who are experts in their fields. Some changes were forced upon us by circumstances out of our control, like new buildings, while others were golden opportunities we seized. 


For instance, while I may not know the intricacies of how a self-driving vehicle operates, I trust that May Mobility does. Knowing where to find the answers and relying on your partners’ expertise is key to overcoming challenges and driving innovation. 


Measuring Success: Tangible Benefits and Positive Feedback 

Metrics for measuring success varied by project. For the Smart-flex program, our goal was to increase parking space occupancy without new infrastructure. For our self-driving shuttles, we aimed for safe operation and high ridership, exceeding our initial 12-month goal of 20,000 riders by 8,000. The AI-enabled Parking Finder app reduced parking citations for parking in the wrong lot by 58% and increased historically underutilized meter revenue by 8.5%. The Plastic Roads project set new standards in sustainability, potentially facilitating many similar projects globally. 


Positive feedback from students, faculty, and staff reinforced the success of these initiatives. Winning innovative and excellence awards from our industry associations further validated our efforts and enhanced our department’s reputation, turning what was often considered a less glamorous aspect of campus life into a source of campus pride. 


Building a Culture of Innovation: Encouraging Creative Problem-Solving 

At the heart of our success is a culture that embraces innovation. We foster an environment in which ideas are freely exchanged and failure is seen as a steppingstone to success. We often joke about having a lot of “bad ideas,” but this willingness to experiment leads to breakthrough innovations. By partnering with those looking for implementation partners and maintaining a startup mindset, we continue to push the boundaries of what is possible. 


Looking to the future, we have several concepts in the incubator stage, awaiting the right alignment of partners and funding. Our commitment to innovation remains unwavering, and we are excited about the potential projects that will continue to position UTA as a leader in campus transportation. 


As we reflect on this remarkable year, we are grateful for the great partners who have contributed to our success. Their expertise and support have been instrumental in helping UTA receive recognition and achieve these milestones. Our journey shows that with the right vision, collaboration, and willingness to embrace change, anything is possible. We encourage readers to take a step forward and embark on their own paths to innovation. If we can do it, so can you. 


Dr. Greg Hladik is the Executive Director of Auxiliary Services at the University of Texas at Arlington. He can be reached at 


Photos courtesy of the University of Texas at Arlington
Article contributed by:
Dr. Greg Hladik, University of Texas at Arlington
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