Proactive support and guidance transforms campus parking
Fiona Macey, the University of York’s Sustainable Travel and Transport Manager, has played a central role in helping to improve the parking experience of students, staff and visitors at campus and city centre universities. As a member of the International Parking Community’s Steering Group, she now highlights how universities can maximise professional standards and practices to help ensure fairness, accessibility, sustainability and operational efficiency at all times.
Every university is faced with a similar conundrum. What is the best way to ensure staff, students and visitors have the best possible experience when it comes to parking their cars, when there is a finite and insufficient number of parking spaces to meet demand? Naturally, it is important to support and encourage the use public transport and cycling, but the relentless pressure on parking spaces is not something that is likely to go away in the near future. Quite simply, parking has reached a pinch point for many universities.
Today’s students are not just learners. All universities are now competing for fee-paying students who are increasingly discerning and selective when it comes to choosing their next educational destination. Consequently, students are now also seen as customers, and the convenience and quality of everyday university life and other support functions no longer plays a secondary role to academic pedigree. They are every bit as important. So too is the need for universities to promote and maximise the use of campus facilities with prestigious events and conferences to attract visitors from far and wide as well as from the local area. This constant need for accessibiity and convenience shines the spotlight firmly on a university’s parking and transport infrastructure.
The challenge is to ensure the parking facilities are managed professionally and efficiently at all times and to ensure everyone plays by the rules when it comes to parking their car. Only then is it possible extract maximise use of such facilities where accessibility is fair and safe for all drivers and where any special requirements can be catered for with minimum disruption to other service users. It all sounds so simple. But the stark reality is that university staff are not parking experts and do not have the depth of expertise or professional insight to make informed decisions and to know what options may be available.
We all know how failures and heavy-handedness in parking management has led to adverse media commentary and considerable reputational damage. In the area of Higher Education, there is no doubt that any shortcomings in parking provision can harm perceptions and lead to considerable frustration and inconvenience for staff, students and visitors. And there is a very real risk that the recruitment of high quality staff will be compromised and students will opt for another university if regular car parking is
considered to be a headache.
The problem is not an easy one to resolve. But a balanced, informed and professional approach to parking and transport management will go a long way to alleviating the pressure and minimising the frustrations. At the University of York, for example, we are continuing to expand our academic facilities, but it is not practical – nor permissible in planning terms – for us to match such expansion with a comparable increase in parking spaces. Our task, therefore, is a complex one. We have to encourage everyone to consider alternative forms of transport and to ensure that the 2,000 parking bays on the
campus are used as efficiently and fairly as possible at all times by all regular users and all types of occasional visitors.
Effective parking management in and around campus and city centre universities requires insight, careful consideration and engagement with all service users. When it comes to allocating and controlling parking spaces, introducing permits and developing new transport initiatives, it’s important to get things right and to have the agility and confidence to respond positively to ever-changing priorities -keeping all users informed at all times. Some universities choose to employ external suppliers to provide parking solutions. Others manage the process in-house. However, in both cases, it’s vital for parking practices to be accurate, efficient and compliant with all relevant legislation.
This is where many universities can so easily come unstuck. It’s not just a case of introducing Pay and Display arrangements and permit-only car parks and then farming out enforcement duties. The location and content of all types of signage and markings must meet specific standards and any enforcement must be considered and proportional. There must also be sufficient flexibility to adjust parking provision to reflect peak periods, special circumstances and major events. It is also essential people are aware why compliance with parking regulations is so important. That’s why ring-fencing revenue for reinvestment in broader transport improvements -such as cycle sheds and subsidised public transport – can be so effective in helping to increase ‘buy-in’ to any new parking initiative.
Right first time
Until recently, it really was just a case of guesswork. Any university could introduce new parking arrangements and take steps to maximise compliance, with very little in the way of guidance or assurance that their actions conformed with legal requirements for parking provisions on private land. The risks from inadvertent oversight are very real.
Only when motorists pursued an appeal against a Parking Charge Notice did it become clear if the university was operating lawfully. The consequences of a motorist successfully appealing such a charge is then far reaching, with the risk of retrospective appeals being launched by other motorists and questions raised about the university’s ability to manage such services. Such potentially costly errors and oversights will then undermine any well-intentioned future moves to address or improve parking and transport provisions.
It’s far better to get things right first time. That’s why a thorough audit should be completed for the multitude of signage, markings and enforcement materials before any enforcement action is taken and why professional guidance on best practice is so important. This is where the International Parking Community (IPC) is helping to transform parking practices for universities. Initially set up to provide greater clarity and improved standards for protecting the interests of landowners, car park operators and motorists alike, the organisation is helping to reduce the incidence of unfair parking practices and unlawful parking charges. Its initial focus has been to provide operators of car parks on private land – such as universities -with clear legal guidance, to encourage service improvements and to provide easy access to a comprehensive and responsive independent appeals process.
The benefits of dedicated support
The results of this new approach have been far-reaching. The number of complaints has fallen dramatically and visitor satisfaction levels have increased considerably. Moreover, delays with campus deliveries and access to campus facilities have been reduced and compliance levels are now much higher than was previously the case. The operational improvements derived from this more proactive approach to parking management also extend into the back-office, with reduced administrative demands and much greater efficiencies.
Recognising the reassurance that’s now available, universities from right across the country are now becoming members of the association and benefitting from the clear focus on the Higher Education sector. In addition there are dedicated e-learning facilities, an easy and efficient online appeals platform not to mention the benefits that come from sharing knowledge and experiences with similar centres of education.
As well as having representation from the educational sector on its Steering Committee, the IPC also held a special education sector conference in Cheshire last year. Work is now underway to develop specific professional standards for universities and other large centres of education. There will also be a special ‘break-out’ session for the educational sector at this year’s IPC Conference, which is being held in Nottingham at the beginning of December. Anyone wishing to participate in this enlightening discussion -that will help shape the continuing development of the IPCs support for universities -should contact me at the IPC for more information.
Significantly, this more progressive and responsive approach to parking management is not restricted to those universities where in-house teams are responsible for undertaking all parking administration and management. A growing number of universities are now also looking to adopt the IPC Codes of Practice when inviting tender submissions from parking operators and other parking service providers. This all adds up to a much more professional and reliable approach to the management of parking facilities – which is good news for universities, their staff, their students and any other motorist who is visiting their facilities.