Event Parking at a Landlocked University
The University of Texas at Austin has nearly 16,000 parking spaces for its approximately 70,000 faculty, staff and students. When you throw cultural and athletic event visitors into the mix, it can be quite a challenge.
Here at UT-Austin Parking & Transportation Services (PTS), we have developed various processes in order to maintain the balance of providing parking to the entire community.
With 7 museums, 17 libraries and 18 colleges and schools, The University of Texas is a very enticing location to host cultural and educational events, such as:
• Special dignitaries such as the Dalai Lama presenting a speech, or the current and past U.S. presidents for a Forum on the Civil Rights Act.
• “Explore UT,” which brings more than 500 school buses and thousands of school children, teachers and parents to the “largest open house in Texas,” featuring hundreds of fun and educational programs across the Forty Acres.
• The Bass Concert Hall at the Texas Performing Arts Center is the stage for Broadway Across America shows and concerts ranging from comedians such as George Lopez vocalists such as Idina Menzel.
• The Frank Erwin Center is the only large-scale concert venue in Austin. “The Drum,” as it’s affectionately called, hosts not only the university’s basketball games, but also other sporting and cultural events, from WWE and indoor motocross to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
As an NCAA Division I school with a winning tradition and championship facilities, we host football, baseball, volleyball, soccer, softball, swimming & diving, and track & field events that bring thousands of athletes and spectators to Austin. For some of these, we have to coordinate parking not just for fans and donors, but also for RVs, and for various VIPs, such as visiting governors and senators. We host NCAA regionals and championship games.
UT-Austin also hosts smaller events that are equally important to the sponsor, the university, and our PTS department. We give the same gold star treatment to an “event” that is a single special guest speaking on archaic languages, as we do to the 150,000-plus people coming to a large-scale campus event.
The first step for any successful event is planning. We at PTS developed an online form for sponsors to request parking for their events.
The form requests the event name, date and sponsor, estimated attendance, estimated number of vehicles needing parking, preferred parking location, and a contact number. Once submitted, the form is transmitted to an email list monitored by our event staff. We contact the stakeholder and develop a parking plan.
For larger scale events such as football or visits from high-profile dignitaries, we meet with not just the event host, but also stakeholders from the city, county and state, as well as federal officials, university police, Campus Safety & and Security, and the event sponsor.
We create an action plan that encompasses not only parking, but also safety, security and traffic control. Our traffic plans are designed not just for traffic flow, but also pedestrian safety. For many events, we have a pre- and a post-event traffic control plan. In some cases, we contra-flow traffic away from campus to assist with getting people home quickly and safely.
These larger scale events require quite a bit of communication and coordination with campus. Many of them require relocation of permit holders to alternative parking locations. We have to shift most of our parking from the east side of campus to the west side for football, basketball and track.
The events we know that happen annually and will require relocations − football, baseball, basketball and track − we inform the permit holders that their parking will be affected during these seasons when they buy or renew their permit.
For others, including construction and special occasions (such as a memorial service for a former Head of State or university leader), we send out university-wide emails, create a web page, and set up signage informing everyone of the upcoming event and where to park or get more information.
Event Parking Options
We at PTS tailor parking and payment options to the needs of each event. As we created new processes and programs over the years, our stakeholders brought challenges that required us to brainstorm to develop our current repertoire of parking options.
For large events, prepay at a lot entrance or garage gate is generally preferred, as it allows for mass exodus. We took this one step further and partnered with Click and Park, an online site that allows visitors to pre-purchase parking passes for events. Not only does this bring convenience to customers, it also reduces our risk by eliminating cash transactions in the field.
Shortly after implementing this program, the university’s College of Fine Arts (CoFA) approached our department to come up with a solution for those attending free events such as recitals and art exhibits. They felt attendance was declining because the university requires a permit or fees to park on campus.
Our regular online parking rate was $8, so we created a special $3 rate for those attending the free events. A CoFA website that lists parking for its free events also was created. Their patrons can go online, purchase parking at the reduced rate, and then park in any space that does not require a specified permit by displaying the pass on their dash.
The Jamail Texas Swimming Center also approached PTS about online parking passes for its swim meets. Unfortunately, the center’s events are staggered throughout the day and evening. Click and Park passes would have required staff at the garages to scan the barcodes throughout the day, so it was cost prohibitive.
Instead, we sell event parking cards to attendees. The cards allow in-and-out garage access, while preventing pass-back between attendees. They are valid for the event duration and then expire.
We use the event parking cards for other campus events, such as Freshman Orientation and Texas Parents’ Weekend, and for the Broadway Across America cast and crew when they have an extended run at the Texas Performing Arts Center.
UT-Austin has more than 2,500 events each year on campus, and with the university’s new Dell Medical School opening in the next year, as well as changes to PCI Compliance rules, we at Parking & Transportation Services will need to further expand our repertoire to handle med school events and visitors.
We also are looking at ways to use our existing pay-and-display machines and pay-by-cell parking for events.
We are in the middle of discussions with a vendor to create a customized web interface and mobile app to provide parking location availability to our patrons for better service. This interface will be posting open space counts from our Amano garage equipment, T2/Case lot counters and Parkeon meters.
We also are looking at ways for people to purchase parking on-the-fly for events or daily parking, and using a scannable QR code or barcodes on their phones at the entrance and exit gates.
As we all know, parking services must evolve to serve our customers.