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Managing Parking in a Studentís World

June, 2014

By Michelle Porter

Parking is the first thing you do when you arrive on campus, but it’s the last thing people actually think about. It’s one of those idiosyncrasies that are highly disregarded.

With 12,490 students, 5,176 faculty/staff members and only 2,800 parking spaces on the Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) main campus in Pittsburgh, one might question what the distribution process is with such a limited resource. This is one of the complexities associated with parking management on a college campus.

Although not all members of the campus community drive, the fact remains that the difficulty in allocating parking exists. Our Parking & Transportation Services office is still charged with the task of managing this resource, while continuing to align with our mission: to provide high-quality parking and transportation resources to the university community.

All of the above needs to be delivered, consistently, with a focus on well-maintained, safe and secure areas, being responsive, and providing effective/efficient customer service.

In a perfect world, our students would like to be able to park free, close to their classrooms and/or dormitories.

Unfortunately, one downside to a student applying for a permit is the annual cost. Permits range from $82 to $118 per month. This equals more than $1,100 annually, which for most college students is considered a hardship.

In order to ascertain whether our resources are being utilized wisely, we have designed an enrollment process, done each May, to determine parking for the upcoming fall semester.

This process has worked well at CMU. It mitigates one of our larger logistical issues: being landlocked in a busy metropolitan area abutting against two other major colleges/universities.

The enrollment process enables students to apply for parking before the end of spring semester. Parking allocation to students is based on seniority, giving first priority to commuter students, and then moving down the scale (e.g., graduate students, seniors, juniors and sophomores). We highly discourage freshman students from bringing their cars to campus.

While we are not able to accommodate every request for parking, our focus on transportation has enabled the students to take advantage of the options available to them. CMU students pay a small fee each year that covers a bus pass available to use on Pittsburgh’s public transportation system, Port Authority of Allegheny County.

In addition, CMU’s Parking & Transportation Services (P&TS) offers an on-campus shuttle service, which runs frequently throughout the week, as well as an escort service, which runs until 2 a.m.

The Zipcar program has been highly successfully on the CMU campus, enabling students to rent vehicles when they need them. Within one year, the utilization rate exceeded 90%, additionally increasing our fleet from two to five vehicles.

These alternative options, the limited number of permits we sell each year (250 to 300), and close-in street parking managed by the city of Pittsburgh enable P&TS to manage parking effectively in a student’s world!



Michelle Porter is Director of Parking & Transportation Services at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. She has held this position since 2007, and is responsible for the management and operation of the Parking Services office. Contact Porter, a member of the Women In Parking Leadership Board, at

mporter@andrew.cmu.edu.


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