What is it About College and University Parking?


What is it About College and University Parking?

For those of us in this environment, working for Parking & Transportation Services on a college or university campus, we know what it is. We understand why it is so challenging. While many campuses project a sense of family, family dynamics can be taxing, to say the least. 

There are individuals in academia who see themselves as above having to work with their institution’s parking and transportation department. In their minds, parking and transportation is not a core function of the institution. Parking should be free, their space must be right outside their office or classroom building, and not only should their parking permit authorize them to park anywhere they deem necessary, but it also actually does. (The resulting citation only fuels their resentment.) 

The administrative staff demands priority for the senior administrators and consideration in all campus lots. There is pressure to provide priority parking for students living on campus despite that parking being used mostly for “storage” during the week (they tend to use their vehicles more on the weekends), and commuter students, generally upper classmen, also express their entitlement for priority parking. All this, and then you add in the importance of accommodating daily visitors and special events. The overwhelming question for the parking leadership is how to balance these competing demands. Afterall, the campus experience begins and ends with parking and/or a shuttle bus. First and last impressions are terribly important.

So, how does the parking leadership balance these competing demands? For starters, the parking system needs a governing document outlining the authority to create the parking operation and enforce parking rules. The document should include a provision for a parking committee or parking council. The composition should include faculty members, administrative staff, undergraduate and graduate students. If the institution uses a shuttle or bus system, the regulation should also include a transportation committee with similar composition. The parking and transportation director must build relationships with the campus community, finding friends and supporters who will assist in communications across campus. Working with the engineering and transportation academic departments can also be a friendly support coalition.

It is imperative that everyone on campus understands that PARKING IS NEVER FREE! The American public is spoiled with fare-free parking be it at shopping centers, high schools, or wherever. One of the most valuable assets an institution has is the land it owns. Often, parking lots occupy land as a temporary place holder until its true purpose is funded. A beautiful new dormitory, administrative or academic building is desirable, but this means the parking lot is going away. This can be very disruptive, and the parking department is going to catch the grief regardless if anyone interested can find their campus Master Plan online. Somehow, “This lot was a temporary gift,” just doesn’t cut it as far as excuses go.

The unsaid mission, requirement if you will, for the parking and transportation department is to “make it work.” “MAKE IT WORK,” “figure out how to say yes,” “solve the problem at the department level.” The mission of the parking and transportation department is to work through issues that affect campus with the least disruption (impact) to the campus. 

In many institutions the parking and transportation department must stand alone as an auxiliary unit. For example, at The University of Texas, no state appropriated funds can be used for parking. The parking department can secure financial assistance using the borrowing rates available to the university for large capital projects, such as garages, but no funds. The sale of permits and collection of fines are the two primary revenue streams funding daily operations. The parking leadership must balance the budget in an environment made up of constituents who do not want to pay for parking. In many cases, parking revenues are also allocated to subsidize the campus transportation system. The tightness of funds often results in lower wages for department employees and reliance on student workers. Each year this can result in a lack of adequate staffing, high employee turnover rates, and training challenges.

As frustrated as your customers might be over having to purchase a parking permit, having to pay a parking citation can send them into the stratosphere. And, just to make your life interesting, their anger doesn’t have to be reasonable on any level. Enforcing parking regulations is not a job for campus police, who are likely as short staffed as you are. The parking leadership must create an internal enforcement program that includes reasonable fines, is consistent, and most of all, fair. It should include an independent, transparent appeals system for all challenged citations. It can be beneficial to have a mechanism for placing “holds” on student accounts that include unpaid citations, or referrals for student disciplinary action for repeat offenders. 

Another challenge for the parking and transportation department is the implementation of new technology. As parking professionals, we know the right technology can drastically improve and streamline our operation. License plate recognition, updated software for the parking system, special event management software, renovated “green” lighting in the parking facilities, etc. The list is endless. It is a time-consuming task and a hard decision to prioritize need and want, to review and evaluate all the options and to understand all the functions the different options are providing. Harder still is figuring out how to pay for it. Raising parking rates is a long and treacherous road to approval by the institution’s senior leadership. To achieve success, parking leadership must educate faculty, staff, students and visitors of the merits and value of the proposed new technology. Remember this sentence in paragraph two? “The parking and transportation director must build relationships with the campus community, finding friends and supporters who will assist in communications across campus.” It was worth repeating. The parking leadership needs these relationships. DEVELOP THEM!

The demand for EV charging stations on campus grows with the overall use and popularity of these vehicles. Again, balance is needed to fairly distribute charging systems across campus. Create a plan and parking policies for charging stations, as well as how they will be enforced. Investigate public funding opportunities for their installation. Additional amenities the parking department can offer that are not expensive to provide are assistance with vehicle lock-out and a jumpstart program for dead batteries. Some universities will not allow their parking department this latitude, but if permitted, both programs can go a long way to extend good will.

Special events present the parking and transportation department with a whole additional realm of challenges and responsibilities. Every campus event presents a recruiting opportunity for your institution. Recruiting students, alumni philanthropy, community support and more. You want all guests to have not just a good experience on campus, but a great one. Difficulty getting into or off of campus can darken anything spectacular that may happen in between. Work with the sponsors of the event to promote that positive experience. Provide a payment system that allows prepaying and keep cash out of the collection process. Prepare your staff to be campus ambassadors as well as parking attendants. 

So, with everything else that is happening on your vibrant and growing campus, parking and transportation services also needs to manage parking and deliveries for construction projects. Every project will present its own unique needs, but having a general plan in place is very helpful. Project needs that are not addressed in the established plan fall into the category of “make it work”. 

While most of this article is focused on parking, the success of that operation is dependent on a viable transportation system. Shuttle buses and/or agreements with city and regional mass transit systems will ease the pressure of too many cars and too few parking spaces. Moreover, offering a park and ride permit at a more economical rate is an additional option to meet customer needs. Many different models are utilized for funding transportation systems. Some may receive institutional support or federal grants, but in most cases parking revenues are still needed to subsidize these services. 

Pedestrian movement, bicycles and scooters are all part of the last mile of the transportation system. Parking and transportation departments must develop a standard program for managing this leg of the journey. Where are scooters and/or bikes authorized to go? Where are they permitted to park or be stored? Are bike racks standardized? Has the campus been geofenced to prevent scooters from going where they aren’t supposed to? Can abandoned bikes be sold to help fund the program? All these questions should be addressed when developing a standardized bike/scooter program. Lastly, look at the pedestrian movements on campus. Develop a “You are Here” wayfinding plan for campus. Work with facilities to evaluate lighting at night as pedestrians move about campus.

Yes, college and university parking and transportation is a family affair. You just don’t want to be the one to put the “fun” in dysfunctional. Be functional. MAKE IT WORK! Parking and transportation programs do impact the entire campus every day. This department must be a leader in ensuring that being involved in the university or college, on whatever level that is, (student, faculty, staff, visitor, alumn) is positive, engaging and promotes a desire for that involvement to continue. You will rarely have anyone singing your praises, but you will hear when the system does not work. Stay focused on doing the right thing and solving problems at the department level. The Chinese warrior / philosopher, Sun Tzu asked the question, “Who must do the hard things?” The answer is, “He or she who can.”

Ginny Griffin is Director of Parking and Transportation Services at Western Kentucky University Bowling Green, Kentucky. She can be reached at virginia.griffin@wku.edu

BOB HARKINS, EdD, is President of Harkins Consulting. He can be reached at bharkins6@utexas.edu

Article contributed by:
Ginni Griffin and Bob Harkins
Only show results from:

Recent Articles

Send message to

    We use cookies to monitor our website and support our customers. View our Privacy Policy