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Now What???

September 14, 2020

Bob Harkins

What a year! Yes, 2020 will certainly be remembered as quite a year. With the COVID19 Pandemic quarantine, the aftermath of George Floyd's death, and the resulting protests, all parking operations must do an assessment of the current and projected parking conditions. At the majority of colleges and universities, parking operations are an auxiliary operation. They are, and must, be self-funded. For example, in Texas the legislation is very clear, parking departments cannot use appropriated or tuition dollars to support parking operations. Since March 2020, most parking operations have had their revenue stream interrupted or stopped. This article will examine issues that college and university parking operations are now facing. A deeper look at critical questions. 


All parking operations must take specific actions in anticipation of re-opening facilities and offices.


What are the impacts and what actions were taken when the parking revenue stream was interrupted or stopped? 


Many college and university parking operations have four sources of revenue. The first is cash from daily or hourly parking. The second is permit or contract parking for students, staff, and faculty. The third revenue stream is from special events such as sporting events, and the fourth stream is parking ticket revenue. The reality is that most parking operations survive from daily or hourly cash parking. However, since mid-March, the nation has been in a financially crippling quarantine or a slow reopening. No cash operations, calls to refund permit fees, no special events and no ticket revenue. 


The impact of the quarantine required a realistic reappraisal of projected revenue. No driving means no parking and that means no revenue from daily parking. The cost of faculty/staff permits, at some universities, were refunded. The reality is that essential staff and faculty who have worked on campuses during the quarantine continued to park on campus without paying for their permits. Many universities closed before or during spring break and most will remain closed to classes until August 2020, or later. The impact, based on a loss of revenue for cash, permits and events creates budget short falls into multi millions of dollars for the year. Most university parking operations will use reserves to cover shortages. Such shortfalls will come close or deplete parking reserves. Thus, jeopardizing future maintenance and operations. 


 


How do organizations cover bond or debt payments with an interrupted revenue stream? 


Most colleges and universities use financial bonds to finance construction projects of garages, decks, and/or parking lots. To qualify for such funding, the operation must demonstrate a revenue stream that is sufficient to pay the annual debt service (principle and interest). With the interruption in the revenue stream, some institutions have been successful in deferring interest payments in 2020 and/or 2021. This deferment has the potential to save millions of dollars. It is critical to look at that savings and the expectation of less than 100 percent operations must be use to develop a revised budget. If the institution opens with many courses online, limited classroom attendance, and reduced staff operations, the projected revenue could be 60 percent or less for the current and FY 20/21 budget.


 


How can parking operations function with the threat or reality of staff layoffs, or furloughs?


As the COVID19 Pandemic was spreading across the nation, many college and university parking operations conducted educational training for all staff. This training was focused on how to protect staff and customers. At one institution they were able to generate 20 hours a week in training for all employees and the university provided emergency leave for the other 20 hours to keep employees whole. Emergency leave ended and staff members were instructed to use their personal time. Depending on job assignments, some staff were presented the opportunity to work from home. 


Others, whose job did not lend itself to remote work were subject to voluntary furloughs. That institution had to furlough 59 employees on June 1. Their university furlough program permits work 5 days a month, which in turn allows the university to continue to provide the staff member with health benefits etc. They all qualified for unemployment benefits and the CARES Act funds. The furlough term is June 1-August 1. The leadership can recall staff back with two-week’s notice as required for operations. The hope and expectation is to have all staff back in place by August 1 to prepare for expected fall operations.


 


What accommodations must be made to have a successful reopening of facilities and operations?


One of the facts in the reality of the quarantine is that parking facilities and operations will reopen. All parking operations must take specific actions in anticipation of re-opening facilities and offices. Facility remediation is critical. The Installation of plastic sheeting in garage offices to provide protection for those that work in the office is just one example of preparing for reopening. Most college and/or university campus committees formed to establish a uniform re-opening response plan. For example, in the fall, classes could be spread out between 8 am and 8 pm with a mix of online, hybrid, and on-campus learning. The idea is to keep the total campus population low by spreading things out and continuing to encourage people who can work from home to do so. Operators are limiting bathroom access and have a sanitation schedule. 


Additionally, reducing elevator occupancy and encouraging stair use in designated directions, where possible, while displaying social distancing signs is another step in facility preparation. Other measures include: limiting access to the main office, utilizing face coverings indoors unless isolated in an office with doors closed. Face coverings are required for outside. Encourage customers to use pay on foots and pay in the lanes to reduce person-to-person contact. Press online for permit sales, etc. Use touchless credit card pads that can be installed outside the garage offices. Emphasize anything that can reduce human touches. Require daily temperature checks for employees on campus. Develop a manual of work protocol for all employees. Develop an office sanitation program that addresses high-touch areas including the bathroom and copy room. Have employees clean out their offices and or desks of unnecessary clutter to make sanitation easier. Eliminate all community refrigerators, microwaves, and lockers. Develop a protocol for wiping down elevators and equipment multiple times a day. 


 


How were shuttle/mass transit contracts handled?


Most colleges and universities provide a bus system to move students, staff, and faculty to and around campus. Those with contracts for service had to work with that agency to change the contract for this year and the next academic year. For most campus systems, service has not operated since March 2020. Access to the main off campus system is often pay-by-ride arrangements. Obviously, nighttime operations are not functioning.


 


How will shuttle or mass transit operations be affected?


Most, if not all, shuttle and or mass transit operations currently require passengers to wear face coverings (masks). The providing operators are currently limiting capacity to 50 percent occupancy on the bus and, as a result, ridership has decreased. But the question is how will shuttle/mass transit accommodate full student class operations with limited seat capacity. Most operators will not have the vehicle capacity to expand services by any noticeable amount. Once students resume normal activities, bus operators do not have the ability to carry potential customers and avoid leaving people behind, with limits on the vehicle occupancy. This requires parking and transportation departments to work with the university registrar for scheduling, even with classes spread out. 


Yes, 2020 has been quite a year. Hang in there, work together, and be safe


Bob Harkins is CEO of Harkins Consulting LLC. He can be reached at bharkins6@utexas.edu



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