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University campuses are almost self-contained cities, and managing parking on them presents unique challenges. At any given moment, university parking operations have to balance the wildly different needs of staff, students, and visitors along with event parking, long-term sustainability initiatives, and more. Accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the rise of hybrid-work, many universities are searching for effective and flexible ways to shake up traditional permits and hang-tag models that previously sustained them.

In our latest webinar, Increasing Parking Flexibility on University Campuses, we discussed how digital parking platforms like ParkMobile are helping campus parking operations overcome their biggest challenges. ParkMobile’s Kristen Locke (CAPP, Technical Sales and Partner Manager) was joined by Perry H. Eggleston (DPA CAPP and Executive Director, Transportation Services – UC Davis) and Ramon Zavala (Transportation Demand Manager – UC Davis) to talk about why UC Davis adopted digital parking, how they implemented a new daily decision model using ParkMobile, the lessons they learned along the way, and other important topics.Increasing Flexibility on University Campuses | Webinar Recap

Here are some important takeaways from the webinar:

Even Pre-Covid, Long-Term Permits Were Struggling

Many campuses rely primarily on a long-term permit model for revenue, a model which was heavily disrupted during the pandemic. But Kristen noted that even before 2020, many universities were starting to have concerns about the future of campus parking and considering alternatives. Commonly cited drivers for change included the logistical challenges of manually enforcing and issuing permits, along with the added confusion and congestion for campus visitors who are unsure of where and how to park. In UC Davis’ case, reliance on long-term permits was butting heads with their ambitious sustainability goals. In fact, Perry observed that the high-cost, “all-you-can-eat” permit paradigm was actively discouraging many permit holders from using alternate modes of transport.  

Campuses are Innovating Parking with ‘Daily Decision’ Models

By leveraging digital parking solutions, Kristen showed how a rising number of campuses are embracing an alternative to permits called ‘daily decision parking’. Daily decision parking offers customized, short-term parking options for specific groups of eligible students and staff. This added flexibility has enabled universities to address short term revenue concerns and lay the foundations for meaningful long term changes. UC Davis’ journey to daily decision also highlighted how campuses can use digital parking to quickly roll out new parking models with less risk. Though UC Davis initially planned to implement daily decision parking on campus over a period of 3-5 years, the timeline changed drastically when COVID hit. Together with ParkMobile they accelerated and rolled out digital, daily decision parking within a year, a feat that Perry said would be nearly impossible with physical hang tags or other park-and-display models. 

When Changing Models, Expect the Unexpected

As with most ambitious plans, the UC Davis team agreed that staying flexible and adjusting to change was crucial to success. In the weeks and months leading up to the launch of daily decision parking, Perry and his team had to make several minor adjustments to respond to key stakeholder concerns. Everyone on the panel acknowledged that for universities in particular, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Universities looking to update their parking model should be prepared to work closely with their technology partners and other groups to make iterative changes and quick adjustments as issues arise. 

Lessons Learned: Communication is Key

When big changes are on the horizon, the team at UC Davis emphasized that no matter how much you think you’re communicating – you need to communicate more. The university employed a robust communication strategy, engaging people across a variety of channels. This included single department presentations, email and social media, remote town halls, and more. Like any brand new system, a few bumps were to be expected and UC Davis’ open and responsive communication was an invaluable tool to help quickly address feedback.

Laying the Groundwork for the Future

Ramon noted that implementing digital parking is also creating other unexpected benefits for campus parking operations. In particular, parking data from ParkMobile is giving UC Davis a fuller and more honest view of their parking system than they’ve had before. He went on to demonstrate how better visibility into occupancy and transactions is allowing their team to make smarter decisions about rate and policy. It’s also invaluable when planning new infrastructure investments for equipment like LPR cameras and in-space sensors. 

Want to Learn More?

UC Davis’ new parking program was launched on January 1, 2021 to great success, and is now offered on the majority of campus parking spaces. Since July 2021, over 26 thousand unique affiliates and over 38 thousand unique visitors have used ParkMobile on campus. To hear the full discussion, including a deep dive into UC Davis’ parking data, specific challenges, future plans, and other insights, make sure to check out the webinar recording here.