Case History: How UCSB Is Using 21st-Century Technologies to Boost Parking Service and Revenues

The new parking system at the University of California, Santa Barbara, (UCSB) is a showcase for off-street parking technology innovations. The system demonstrates cutting-edge features, such as advanced wireless 802.11 networking for pay stations; pay-by-cell phone options; and environmentally friendly, solar-powered functionality.

“Our previous system was three decades old, so when I came on board in 2002 the decision was already made to update,” says Tom Roberts, director of Transportation & Parking Services at UCSB.“Because our vendor, Digital Payment Technologies, was able to deliver our ultimate desires, the project mushroomed and is now a showcase of advanced parking technologies.”

UCSB is a mid-size school within the University of California system. Its parking program — 6,000 parking stalls situated on more than 900 acres of land that previously utilized three staffed kiosks — is now controlled by 53 pay stations and a state-of-the-art wireless 802.11 network.

Previously, every vehicle entering campus had to funnel through one of the two main entrance gates (a third kiosk was located in the university’s only parking structure) and purchase a parking permit. Line-ups of vehicles at parking kiosks were a common sight. The annual operating and staffing costs for the three kiosks were already in excess of $300,000, and the problems associated with personnel and cash security were growing.

A review was undertaken and, among other new programs, a decision was made to begin charging for parking in the evenings and on weekends. In addition, increased parking and payment options, such as paying by credit card, student campus card and cell phone, were deemed essential to the mix.

UCSB Moves to the Cutting Edge of Parking Technology

To address these issues, UCSB’s Transportation & Parking Services decided to take a leadership role by implementing new parking technologies and services, including pay-by-space configuration and automated payment stations.

The top concern for Roberts was to expand customer choice and service. Roberts and his team believed that parking revenues were constrained by the lack of options for payment and low levels of service.

UCSB asked its vendor, Digital Payment Technologies of Vancouver, to deliver all available payment options, including pay-by-cell phone, and to find new ways to improve service, productivity and efficiency. The end result comprised a number of industry and university technology firsts.

“These technologies had been proven in other industries for a few years now so we weren’t experimenting on customers like UCSB,” notes Mike Rodger, vice president of Marketing for Digital Payment.“What is ground-breaking, however, is integrating these technologies with current parking systems and adapting them to reach specific customer objectives. That’s what was innovative about this project.”

Pay-By-Cell Phone and a Campuswide 802.11 Real-Time Parking Network

One of the most interesting features of the UCSB system is the pay-by-cell phone (PBC) payment option. Upon parking, drivers simply call the toll-free PBC vendor (Verrus) phone number listed on the front of each pay station (as well as on individual lot signs), provide their stall number and initiate an account with their first call. The cell-phone payment system bills either Visa or MasterCard, and there is an additional $0.25 service charge paid to Verrus each time this payment method is selected.

One benefit of PBC is that five minutes prior to the expiration of a parking permit, the customer receives a text message letting them know their parking is about to expire. If they decide to purchase more time using their Verrus account, there is no need to access a pay station or return to the vehicle. A toll-free call solves the problem.

The new UCSB parking program tracks enforcement via a wireless 802.11 network connecting all 53 campuswide payment stations together into one system. This is the first pay-by-space network to integrate cell-phone payment, to communicate in real time and to provide enforcement data via handheld devices. PDA enforcement is also capable of streaming live data using GPS coordinates, so that field officers may update paid/unpaid stall status without returning to a pay station to generate an enforcement report. This technology saves time and eliminates erroneous citations while simultaneously improving service levels and productivity.

Solar-Powered Pay Stations

UCSB has a strong overall commitment to reducing the university’s impact on the environment. For example, to encourage the use of bicycles, no parking permits are issued to students living within two miles of campus.

The university’s commitment to green projects and the cost of hardwiring more than 50 pay stations — some located in remote locations with little power nearby — were driving factors in choosing a solar-power application. Another innovative approach taken by UCSB was the creation of a mobile platform for pay stations designed for use at special events in which high demand might temporar-ily overwhelm fixed machines. Custom-built trailers developed by the UCSB pay station project crew transport the four machines to and from locations as needed.

200+ Parking Rates for Campuswide Pay-By-Space System

The networked system enables the university to closely monitor and fine-tune its parking program on a continual basis. The electronic reporting function provides information about where and when cars are being parked, allowing the parking department to in- crease efficiency in enforcement and security, as well as extract high-quality information for planning purposes.

UCSB also provides free, occasional-use coupons for commuters using public or mass transportation as their primary form of transportation to and from campus. Coupon numbers are issued to occasional parkers, enabling them to vend their parking at no charge from the pay station by inputting a one-use numerical code.

UCSB has also found an interesting way to offset the cost of the permit paper stock: paid advertising space is provided on the back of the permits vended through the pay stations. The UCSB Bookstore, for instance, currently has ads appearing on all permits. This benefits the store’s operation while saving dollars for parking services.

As part of the ongoing comprehensive approach to revamping how the university handles visitor information and makes the campus more visitor-friendly, UCSB has added a “travelers’ radio station” and digital signage to provide parking and visitor information 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The university has also streamlined the process by which annual and quarterly permits for students, faculty and staff are distributed each year. Permits are ordered online and received via mail delivery, resulting in a process that is not only more cost-efficient for the parking department but also saves countless hours of students, faculty and staff time in picking up their parking permit each year.

Impressive Financial Results and Early Payoff

The early returns from the changeover have been significant. So far the university has closed two of the original three kiosks.

Although Tom Roberts had anticipated total revenue to rise, he was surprised to see an increase of 26 percent in the first year. In his opinion, this unexpected financial return is the result of better parking choices and expanded payment options.

“Revenue going up was one thing, but no one expected an increase of 26 percent in the early going,” notes Roberts. “It really supports the value of advanced customer service in what up until recently has been a rather exasperating facet of campus life.”

With these returns, the UCSB system upgrade is now projected to pay for itself in less than two years, a reasonable payback period by any standards but particularly considering the many changes made — changes that have put the university at the leading edge of advanced parking technology worldwide. In providing a model of innovation for the at-large parking industry, the university has crystallized another equally important payback: the one provided by advanced education in our high-powered, technology-driven society.

Steve Campbell is a writer and senior public relations consultant who writes for and about parking companies and technologies. He can be reached at 604/888-5267 or [email protected]