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The Parking Professional: What is your current position with the George Mason University? How long have you been there?
Josh Cantor: I have been the Director, Parking & Transportation, at Mason for five years.
TPP: Tell us about the university's parking and transportation operations.
JC: We have four campuses serving 33,000 students (with 5,400 living on the Fairfax campus), 6,000 employees and three million visitors per year. Mason has a little more than 14,000 parking spaces. We own four garages and lease two others, and have about 20 surface lots. We opened a 2,650 space deck on the Fairfax campus in August 2009, and are opening a three-level underground garage with 600 spaces at our Arlington, Va., campus in December/January.
Our shuttle program has five different routes with service between the four campuses; to and from the nearby Metro train station; to local shopping areas as well as buses around the campus. The shuttle service began as a van service eight years ago and now carries 600,000 passengers annually. Mason also partners with the City of Fairfax so employees and students can ride the city's CUE bus for free. That carries another 350,000 employee and student trips per year.
TPP: What's the biggest challenge facing the university's parking and transportation operations?
JC: Like many universities, the rapid growth of the campus and the construction that often swallows parking lots. The number of students living on campus has grown nearly 50 percent in the past three years. Handling commuter parking on campus is also challenging. With seemingly endless construction - Mason has spent over a $1 billion on construction during the past five years - and handling a lot of event parking for on-campus venues: the 10,000 seat Patriot Center; two concert halls; and a 150-room hotel/conference center. Being in the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area, regional traffic adds to our challenges with employees and students coming from three states and the District on a daily basis.
TPP: How are you working to overcome this challenge?
JC: Day to day, I feel like I have to know everything that's going on around our campuses. This means my job is often to stick my nose in other people's business since eventually parking, traffic and transportation will play a role or be affected. We often serve as the public relations unit if something has to be communicated to the masses about our operation. Besides e-mails and Web sites and old fashioned signs, we're also active on Facebook and Twitter and working with student media to communicate.
Long-term, we have been working on a comprehensive parking, traffic and transportation master plan involving several dozen campus entities and even our neighboring city, county, and state transportation officials - as many of our projects impact each other's jurisdictions. The master plan has addressed everything from parking allocation, shuttle operations and roadway improvements to sidewalk and crosswalk enhancements, bike programs, and regional transit centers.
TPP: Everyone has a unique story about how they really got into parking. What's yours?
JC: I was working at Cal State Fullerton University in the VP of Administration's office when during budget cuts, my job was being eliminated. My boss asked if I'd like to work for the Parking & Transportation department. I asked what my other options were and when told unemployment, I told myself that parking isn't all that bad. So, I wound up being there working with some great people, learning a whole lot about so many facets of the industry (with little direct responsibility) before coming to George Mason in 2005 when my family relocated.
TPP: What's the most interesting parking story you can share?
JC: Like many, we have our share of unbelievable parking appeals. However, I'd say handling four presidential visits as well as visits from other presidential candidates has been very exciting. Once we had to close off a garage as it was in the "bomb blast perimeter" from where the president and vice president were, but we still had people complain. At least then I was able to direct the complaining faculty member to the man in the suit carrying a gun-and said if the Secret Service ok'ed him parking in the garage, it was ok by me.