The Campus Parking Permit Conundrum

By Thomas Gaffrey, IV, MBA, CAPP

As a parking professional in higher education, I spend a great deal of my time thinking of ways to get students, faculty, staff, and visitors to not park on campus. This often involves a range of sustainable transportation offerings: free transit passes, a campus shuttle, vanpools, preferential carpool parking, and so on. However, there is one elephant we need to start chatting about: the all-you-can-eat parking permit.

In the private market, parking facilities can increase the permit price until they reach the desired quantity demanded. However, this is inconsistent with the mission and values of higher education. So what are some other options?

The all-you-can-eat monthly or semester parking permit represents a sunk cost to the parker. Once the permit is purchased, the individual has less financial incentive to mode shift. When the Gates Foundation opened its new headquarters in Seattle, many restrictions were in place for parking. Their parking is $120 per month or $12 per day: at the beginning of each month, you pay each day you drive until you hit $120. In this scenario, the Gates Foundation has reached less than 50 percent parking occupancy.

Could this type of model be implemented on a college or university campus? Maybe. With LPR technology, a free-flowing, micro-toll environment can be reasonably developed. There are also a number of operational constraints that must be evaluated and mitigated. If students pay a small amount each time they come to campus, could it become a disincentive to attend class or participate in campus events? Could the micro-toll option become so popular that it resulted in a substantial revenue decline, putting bond financing proformas in uncertain territory?

In the end, there isn’t a quick answer, but this is one more example of how every aspect of the way we do business continues to change.

Thomas W. Gaffery IV, MBA, CAPP is director of parking and transportation at California State University, San Bernardino.

2 thoughts on “The Campus Parking Permit Conundrum

  1. I think MIT switched completely to hourly-based parking.

    I think technologies are available to implement, but need to consider other factors.
    Certainly, the availability of alternative modes of travel, is important. I also suppose that residential locations and commuting distance are different in SB, compared to Boston. A PhD student at MIT also mentioned that there are a few streets with free parking in a walking distance from campus now shows VERY HIGH COMPETITION for parking space.

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