A Milestone in Parking Privatization
A Conversation with CampusParc President/CEO Sarah Blouch
PT: Five years into the parking concession with Ohio State, how are things going?
SB: Despite some dire predictions, the university’s parking system has continued to operate as before. By the same token, the challenge of always finding proximate parking still exists; faculty, staff, students, and visitors still resent having to pay to park on campus; and those who park illegally still get citations.
So, all in all, not a whole lot has changed! The best part and biggest distinction, as far as both CampusParc and the university are concerned, is that we come to work each morning thinking about how to operate the parking system efficiently so the university can focus on other things.
PT: You say not much has changed. Can you expand on that?
SB: While a comprehensive Concession Agreement details the responsibilities for CampusParc to operate the parking, as well as responsibilities that remain with the university, our customers are not overly concerned with who is responsible for decisions; they are more interested in solutions that meet their needs. Managing customer expectations and balancing competing parking needs have always been a challenge.
Predictably, the blame tends to fall on the parking people, whoever they are; however, the university is still responsible for setting criteria for parking priorities and parking permit eligibility. And the annual permit increase for the 50-year concession was determined by the university at the time the contract was awarded.
Even though annual rate increases mirror the historical university-led rate increases, the perception is that prices have “skyrocketed” with CampusParc. While nobody likes rate increases, the parking lease provides certainty about annual parking rates, something that did not exist when the university ran the parking operation.
The expectation for proximate parking is not a new phenomenon and certainly not limited to a university campus. But with constant, strategic campus growth and development, campus parking lots on valuable real estate are beginning to make way for other development, with a movement to remote parking and shuttles. CampusParc is now typically at the table during such planning; however, the university continues to make the decisions.
Executing planned projects (regardless whose project it may be) still requires a team approach … with the addition of CampusParc.
PT: So what has changed?
SB: The very real costs that have always accompanied decisions to remove parking and/or focus on the reliance of remote shuttles or other modes of transportation remain, but what has changed is how the associated costs are addressed. The perception that these costs are new, and thus leasing the parking limits choices, is very misleading.
A well-crafted concession agreement actually enables strong fiscal responsibility and accountability. Before the concession, costs to support these decisions were simply reallocated to all customers through parking fee increases. Now, there are mechanisms in place to identify and address these costs before they occur. If the costs exceed the value of the planned project, university leaders can elect to delay or modify approach.
We have also been able to refine fact-based decision-making to a higher level than when parking was within a university department. We are able to filter out the emotion that often lies behind parking issues and rely on actual data and analysis to inform every business decision we make. We also share data with the university to help inform its parking-related decisions.
PT: What are the primary ways you see Ohio State benefitting from the concession?
SB: In addition to the initial influx of $483 million into the university’s endowment, which has generated more than $105 million in distributions for teaching, learning, research, transportation and sustainability, the university is avoiding the cost of maintaining parking facilities and the liability for those assets. Anticipated capital maintenance costs of the university’s parking assets are calculated to be more than $234 million over the 50-year lease.
We have already invested more than $24 million dollars in Ohio State garage and surface lot repairs, garage and lot equipment, and lighting improvements. And the university avoids any liability from damage to vehicles or injury to individuals in the parking facilities.
PT: Where do you find the greatest areas of change to be so far?
SB: In these five years, advances in technology have accelerated CampusParc’s ability to attend to customer expectations and behavior, as well as its ability to operate more efficiently. License plate recognition cameras were incorporated into the enforcement activity early on, which also provides data on customer parking habits and which has proven useful to the university in recent planning efforts. A $5.5 million investment to integrate NuPark software with TIBA gate equipment is in process (as we speak), which will facilitate numerous customer-friendly services and amenities.
Advances in technology will change mobility behavior in coming years and, as a result, modify demand for traditional parking options. CampusParc is actively working with experts at the university, in Columbus, and internationally to incorporate technology into our strategic plan.
PT: So, it sounds as if the university’s decision is proving to be a good one?
SB: Both parties would agree that there have been some bumps in the road as we navigate this new partnership, but it is getting easier, and we are aligned in finding ways to overcome barriers if and when they arise.
We recognize the university is a valuable resource for research, creative thinking and expertise. And we believe the university recognizes it has received value beyond the initial upfront check, and has come to rely on CampusParc as a respected resource.
In addition to sharing ideas and data, we are building relationships and partnerships on campus and beyond. From piloting environmentally friendly parking products to providing learning labs for faculty and internship opportunities for students, we are eager for faculty and university departments to use the parking assets for educational purposes. We have developed a collaborative and symbiotic relationship. And the best is yet to come.
Sarah Blouch, President and CEO of CampusParc at The Ohio State University, can be reached at email@example.com. For more on the concession agreement, go to the CampusParc website http://osu.campusparc.com/home/about-us/corporate-office/about-campusparc-corporate.