Demand-Based Parking for Universities: From the Municipal Playbook

Many universities struggle to meet parking demand as they grow in size and enrollment. A technique that is commonly used in municipal parking is to base parking on demand and set prices in a manner that provides price and convenience choice. Sometimes referred to as demand-based or tiered parking pricing, this market-informed strategy can help universities and community colleges achieve financial and sustainability goals while maximizing the amount of people accessing campuses each day. There are nuances and variations on the theme based on the special needs of specific campuses, but in essence, the approach allocates parking prices based on demonstrated demand. Facilities with the highest demonstrated demand have the highest value and therefore the highest cost, and those with relatively low demand command a lower price.

A significant benefit of tiered parking is that it offers parkers price and convenience choice–something we all appreciate as consumers. Demand-based parking can encourage commuters to use alternatives to driving by assigning a meaningful cost to different parking options. Additionally, the approach can help redistribute parking demand. A less convenient parking lot may become more desirable if its cost is lower than one with higher demand.

Moving from less sophisticated systems to a demand-based approach can be met with resistance from the campus community if it isn’t implemented in a thoughtful way. Ask yourself:

  1. Does the institution have the political will to make a significant change in your parking program? If university leadership won’t see the process to fruition, it may not be time for you to pursue something this weighty.
  2. Do you know parking occupancy by facility and by day of week/hour of day? To begin dividing up lots into different pricing groups, you must understand current and anticipated occupancy levels inside and out.
  3. What’s happening and likely to happen just outside of campus with demand-based parking? If neighborhoods adjacent to your campus have no parking management strategies in place, it is likely that any major changes on campus will simply displace parking into the neighborhoods on your borders, potentially causing town/gown problems.
  4. Do you offer good alternatives to driving? When you change how permits are allocated, you’ll cause some parkers to rethink how they reach campus. There may be great resistance if you don’t have viable alternatives, such as transit, carpool, and biking.

There are many details to work out when implementing demand-based parking, but more universities will need to consider this approach as they grow and exceed the capabilities of old permit allocation systems. Those that make the move will improve customer satisfaction, and they will enjoy more financially secure parking programs that are more efficiently used while helping their campuses meet sustainability goals.

About Casey Jones, CAPP

Casey Jones, CAPP is vice president of institutional services at SP Plus. He is IPI’s immediate past chair and serves on the IPI Advisory Council, IPI Scholars/Fellows Task Force, and the Professional Development Task Force.

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