Parking services put to the test by the pros
A comprehensive assessment of UAA Parking Services performed by an outside consulting firm was presented last week in a forum titled, “The Future of Parking at UAA” in the Consortium Library.
Casey Jones of the Boise-based consulting firm SP+ discussed his company’s findings with a thin crowd of mostly university administrative staff.
“By comparison to many other places, things are going really well here,” Jones, who has been in the parking industry for over two decades, said.
The firm did most of its work remotely, aside from two short visits to campus last semester. The on-campus visits allowed Jones to interact with students face-to-face, and to encourage them fill out an online survey regarding perceptions of the parking at UAA. The surveys revealed parking services is perceived as doing a “satisfactory” job. Jones said that’s not the case at other colleges and universities.
“A lot of places I go, there are staffs and pitchforks,” he said.
Parking availability and proximity are the most important factors to UAA Parking Services customers, and outreach and communications are seen as weak, according to survey results.
In addition to the surveys, SP+ analyzed the program’s budget, organizational structure, and use of technology. The firm’s repository of parking and transportation profiles of past university clients allowed them to identify eight “parking peers,” or universities that have similar parking and transportation needs based on metrics like size, distance from municipality, and topography. This was another source of input for his team.
“We’ve spent a lot of time at other campuses and universities and that factors in some because we’ve seen and implemented best practices in other places,” Jones said in an interview last semester.
The brunt of Jones’ presentation outlined nine priority recommendations based on the evaluation. Jones highlighted three in particular that should carry the most weight: implementing of a strategic visioning process, realigning parking services and switching to a demand-based permitting system.
Strategic Visioning Process
The strategic visioning process is meant for the organization to define what success looks like to them.
“It’s not difficult to fall into a purely operational orientation and just one detail after another after another after another and you lack any kind of strategic approach,” Jones said.
Realignment of Parking Services
Jones said consolidating transportation services such as parking, shuttle, bicycle and bus into one department would be more efficient and cost-effective than having separate offices.
“We think of people as singular modes, once a driver, always a driver, once a bicyclist, always a bicyclist,” Jones said. “If we think of the service as not so much parking and transportation as access and mobility, housing all those services that allow someone to get to the place that they wish to go, makes more sense.”
Glenna Muncy, Director of Parking Services, said her program has long worked hand-in-hand with shuttle services, in addition to promoting alternative transportation modes like the People Mover bus.
“I don’t think Casey is suggesting anything new here,” Muncy said. “What we’re looking at is really just making sure that our missions are aligned and that the budget that we are expending on both sides goes to serve the same purpose.”
Included in the recommended realignment would be the creation of two new positions: a special events coordinator and communications coordinator.
“That persons job in essence would be to work with all the venues on campus to ensure they have parking and transportation services to support their events,” Jones said of the events coordinator.
Parking services shares a marketing director — Brandon Moore — with other auxiliary departments like the bookstore and housing, which limits its reach.
“I’m going to be tasked with easily readable, simple, consistent communication,” Moore, who was in attendance for the presentation, said.
Demand-based permit system
The demand-based permitting system encourages students to park in the less popular lots by charging them less to do so.
“In the East side of campus, an under-utilized resource, parking services should be able to say, ‘Let’s use cost as an incentive to get people to park there. Let’s really discount this thing so people start to make a trade off that makes sense,'” Jones said. “Well, yes, it’s a little farther away, or yes, it’s not connected to the skywalk system or whatever, but it’s a heck of a lot cheaper and so I can pocket that difference if I want.”
The permit structure is changing next semester, but not to a demand-based system as Jones suggested.
“We need to find out with our new garage, which is opening this fall, with those three garages and the other 24 surface lots that we manage, where are our pinch points? Where are the new pinch points going to be when we have this open access for all of campus?” Muncy said.
Starting next fall students will have three permit options: full day, evening, and housing. The full day permit can be purchased for a year or semester. Both the full day and evening permits allow access to all garages and surface lots.
Not all the recommendations given by SP+ will be adopted by the parking services. However, the information relayed by the firm will undoubtedly have long-term effects of this campus. Parking services is preparing additional information on the assessment soon through their website: uaa.alaska.edu/parking.