Park It Here

The definition of transportation demand management (TDM) is rather vanilla: in a nutshell, it’s a series or group of techniques intended to decrease parking demand. What about that prompted experts at the Center for Transportation Research at the University of South Florida to study this discipline?

“The expectations of what is going to happen always tend to be bigger than reality,” said Phil Winter, the Center’s transportation demand management program director. “People think, ‘Oh, this will be easy. All we have to do is put a bus out there and people will jump on it.’ This isn’t like a building a parking garage where once it’s up, they will park there.”

Smaller, often private schools don’t know how to introduce a TDM philosophy because they’ve always had a culture of free parking on campus and feel competitive pressures have locked them into this path, said Jon Efroymson, the senior parking consultant at Walker Parking Consultants. Meanwhile, campuses like Northwestern University in downtown Chicago deal daily with the rising cost of space for cars, even after exhausting the common strategies.

According to Efroymson, the average cost to build one parking space in a parking structure is $20,000. At the University of Virginia (UVA), that price can be as high as $40,000, or $20M for a 500-car parking garage. “It comes down to economics,” said Becca White, the director for UVA’s parking and transportation department.

At many campuses, TDM is also a part of officials’ green initiative — and that makes it an easier sell to both faculty/staff and students, in Winters’ experience. That’s easier… not a slam-dunk. The first hurdle most universities face is the fact they’ve bundled the cost of parking into fee structures or employee packages, and folks have no idea of its value, said Efroymson. As a result, they see it as a right rather than an opportunity. He suggests universities first un-bundle this amenity.

That’s exactly where UVA started. White admits the plan is more punitive, as they simply raised the cost of parking higher and higher. “But in the last 18 months, we’ve been about the incentives, and that’s been much easier to market and much more pleasant to jump on board with,” she noted.

Appealing to Students

Students are eager to find ways to save money when parking prices start to rise. The list of alternatives is extensive.
  • Incentivize ride sharing. Riders who sign up to carpool at UVA receive a discounted price on their parking fees, and preferential locations. One pool is up to 10 riders as of press time.
  • Subsidize regional bus passes. Thanks to some behind-the-scenes negotiations, anyone with a UVA ID card may ride the Charlottesville regional bus service at no charge. Since implementing this program in April 2007, the University has gone from moving 13,000 people to nearly 21,000 passengers per month with this option.
  • Revamp bus schedules. University bus service is a viable option, but only if it travels where the students need to be. Efroymson reminds officials to include off-campus apartment complexes, as well as common conveniences, on the routes.

UVA’s bus schedule hadn’t been revamped in more than 20 years — until August 2008, when White rolled out new routes and timetables that more closely match the students’ class schedules.
  • Improve bicycle amenities. Inclement weather can discourage bicycling use even with the best-laid paths. At many universities, student government operates a bike shop on campus or offers services such as lockers, shower facilities, or even valet bike parking. It’s also a great idea to create a place to store bicycles near athletic fields so students may pedal to the big game and leave parking spaces for out-of-town fans.

UVA’s buses offer bike racks on the front so students can combine the two transportation options, and the campus has several indoor bike parking locations.
  • Team up with local businesses. The University of South Florida accommodates a lot of traffic around its VA hospital, but parking is always at a premium. Officials asked a nearby mall if they could use its excess spaces and run a shuttle between the two locations. The retailers were thrilled with a chance to bring more consumers to their parking lot. In fact, the mall helps finance the shuttle.

Working With Faculty

Persuading employees to forego parking has been a harder task for UVA. This college town is in the Piedmont area, where only about one-third of the staff lives on the regional bus route. “It’s all about density when you’re trying to offer transit,” noted White. “It’s harder to push carpools when you have residences so far flung and the riders live 15 miles apart, and then face a 30-mile drive to campus.”

Thankfully, consultants have helped universities address faculty cars via these solutions.
  • Cash out. By law, parking may be included in an employee’s cafeteria plan along with medical reimbursement accounts and child care. This means an employee sets aside her own money to pay for parking with pre-tax dollars, which is a benefit in itself. But it also means employees may cash out of the system. Say the university spots someone $50 a month for parking and they insist on a $100 space; the additional $50 comes from the employee’s pocket. If they find a spot farther out for $20 a month, the employee keeps $30 in cash or applies it toward another benefit in the cafeteria plan. If they carpool with a spouse, they keep the entire $50 — a nice incentive during tougher economic times.
  • Offer car rental. Companies such as Zip Car and Enterprise have the ticket to join the college scene: hourly vehicle rentals that replace the need for department fleet vehicles. “Someone could access the campus by transit or bicycle, and then rent this car to drive out to a meeting at the airport,” Winters said.
  • Compress work schedules. If office personnel work 80 hours during a nine-day period and take the tenth day off, that automatically reduces the number of cars on campus every day without eliminating jobs. It also helps to stagger class start times, helping to keep drivers from circling futilely for filled spaces because everyone is on the same schedule.

“The purpose of TDM is not to force people to do things,” Efroymson reminded. “It’s to offer alternatives and allow people to make a decision.”    

Nor should your goal be to move everyone, but instead to make a marginal dent in the situation. “We don’t recommend a campus expect 100 percent to park remotely. But if five percent buy into a program, that’s five percent fewer vehicles coming onto campus every day, and it makes a noticeable difference.”