We Also Park Cars!
Very few people grow up dreaming of working in the parking industry. Fewer still strive to work in a parking operation on a college camapus in such a challenging environment. Often the parking system and transportation systems are joined into one department. Such operations at a college or university are complex and involved. While parking is not viewed as a key function of these institutions, in many ways, the parking and transportation systems underpin the key functions. Senior administrators of these institution expect the parking and transportation office to solve issues and efficiently manage campus resources.
The university parking office has many core functions. Monthly or annual permit issue or authorization is a critical function. The allocation of parking space to faculty, staff, students, and visitors is always a hotly debated issue.
The first challenge was that the parking operation and enforcement was buried in the campus police department. The establishment of a parking office relieved officers from this task. However, some institutions use parking revenue to help to fund the police department operations. That complicated any reporting changes. Certainly, there was the challenge of sorting out budgets and other administrative details, however, the biggest hurdle was to build a cohesive organization that served the campus. Let’s look at examples of tasks that were executed by the parking and transportation department.
Parking Office: The parking office has many core functions. Monthly or annual permit issue or authorization is a critical function. The allocation of parking space to faculty, staff, students, and visitors is always a hotly debated issue. Decisions that factor into the distribution must stand up to campus scrutiny. In today’s parking operations, there are many systems available to control access into gated lots and garages. Whether it is FFID, License Plate Recognition, Key Fobs, Pin Pads, Magstripe Cards or Permits, or Gate Attendants. Daily parkers must have a system and procedures that grant access and also provide financial accountability. Parking administrators must know the usage factor their spaces. Perhaps one of the most important data points needed are the daily usage reports. Administrators must run these reports daily at varying times but most importantly, read and study the data. The field parking attendants call violations as they see them. There should be a review and appeals process for all citations.
Special Events: Certainly, special events require an individual to coordinate all campus events. These types of events range in size and impact on the campus. For example, football can have 100,000 in attendance or a school may have three people for a doctoral musical final. All events are important to the sponsor. Parking personnel must ensure a good experience for the patrons. Athletics and event venues are good about working with the parking and transportation office to manage events. However, there are hundreds of events that occur on campus during the week day or evening. Event planners in the colleges or schools are not skilled at including parking for their guests into their planning process. The parking office should develop a special event process that planners can use. Evening and weekends also require coordination for use of facilities.
Construction: Construction on the campus is always a challenge for the parking office. The parking office can arrange for closing of spaces and notify the campus parkers of the alternative parking. The construction coordinator can adjust delivery times of materials and equipment. The coordinator can control contractor parking. Additionally, that staff member can work with facilities to accommodate campus building operations.
Campus Shuttle: We blended the parking operations with aspects of campus transportation. This section would be responsible for developing and managing the campus shuttle system. A reliable shuttle system takes pressure off of the scarce parking facilities. Imagine if all students decided to drive to campus one day. What a traffic jam!! Whether it is an inter-campus system or a city-wide system there must be someone coordinating the system. The structure of the system varies from campus to campus.
Transportation Tasks: Moving and receiving functions can be delegated to the transportation section. The campus motor pool, maintenance, and the university fleet can be included in the department. Or, if moving and receiving is too much of a financial challenge to accomplish, another department must take it on.
Ride Sharing: Throughout the nation, alternative transportation programs are very hot topics. The shuttle system helps move large numbers of students, staff and faculty to and about campus. However, often that is not enough to satisfy the campus. A carpooling or van pooling program is a visible way to counter the single-occupant vehicle issue. The designation of parking areas that are favorable to the more desirable areas of campus for ride sharing programs can encourage ride sharing. Reducing the cost of the permit may also be an incentive for these programs. There may be opportunities to partner with the university researchers on a variety of topics.
Bicycle Program: Bicycles on a college and or university campus have a long tradition. Generally, there are two approaches to bicycle parking on campus. Some institutions have central bicycle parking areas while others allow the cyclist to ride to their destination and park. Either way it is a mobility issue that should fall to the parking and transportation department. The biggest question or issue is who provides for the funding for bike rack and other bike items? A possible revenue source is to auction off abandoned bicycles left on campus.
Night Movement: Movement on a campus late at night can be a scary situation. A night shuttle or a walking escort program is certainly within the purview of the parking and transportation department. This program Requires annual funding that can be an issue.
Travel: Most intuitions spend a considerable amount of funds for staff and faculty travel. Whether it is an airline or the movement of the football team’s equipment, it is a mobility activity. Also, each year hundreds of faculty and staff members move household goods at the expense of the institution. With coordination and oversight, the institution can have considerable savings of funds in this area.
Mail Service/Package Shipping: Potentially, mailing service contracts for the college or university can also save the institution considerable funding. Package shipment and mail are operations that affect the entire campus. If the university has a mail delivery system it should be coordinated campus wide.
Vending: Campus vending is an area that requires contracts with service providers A university must oversee the program, pay for a staff member and have some alternative transportation funding.
I have outlined in this article many functions and tasks that could reside in the parking and transportation department at a college or university. It is critical to remember that even with the additional tasks we still park cars! Some would say “stay in your lane” and just park cars. But, maybe it is best to reach out and always seek a seat at the table of campus mobility operations. Leaders should build an outreach-orientated organization that plans and coordinates operations and events campus wide.
Gerald Robert Harkins is retired from his position as Associate Vice President for Campus Safety and Security for The University of Texas at Austin. He can be reached at Bharkins6@utexas.edu