Tag Archives: Penn State

Reducing Parking Pain at Penn State

There is a spoken and unspoken hierarchy and tenure that go into parking assignments on university campuses, and decisions about who parks where can be challenging. The tough question is, who should be making these decisions?

At Penn State’s University Park campus, individual departments decide who parks where, using a system of volunteer parking chairs. These are faculty and staff members who agree to allocate parking assignments within their own departments; the parking department assigns a number of spaces to each, and the parking chairs decide who gets what. The system works both with regular parking issues and also when parking is reduced due to construction or other reasons, and is instrumental to the way parking professionals on campus do their jobs.

In this month’s Parking & Mobility magazine, Ryan Givens, CAPP, associate director of transportation services at Penn State; and David Dorman, CAPP, parking allocation manager, explain the university’s parking chair system and why it might work for other campuses. Fascinating! Read it here.

Participation and Buy-in

How and why Penn State’s parking chair system works to reduce campus parking pain.

By Ryan Givens, CAPP, and Dave Dorman, CAPP

WITH THE ADVENT OF PAID PARKING at the Pennsylvania State University’s (Penn State) 19-08 Participation and Buy InUniversity Park campus more than 20 years ago came the development of a parking chair system with three primary purpos­es: distributing permits to faculty and staff mem­bers, deciding who would be issued what type of permits within allocations, and disseminating parking-related information.

As anyone working in a major university or college setting can appreciate, parking can be a contentious and politically charged subject. From university executives to frontline staff personnel—food preparation, janitorial staff, etc.—where someone parks seems to influence not only how a person’s day starts or ends, but can affect the entire day. Whether a university executive, a physical plant work­er, the library front-counter staff, a distinguished faculty member, or members of the university police, everyone deems his or her time valuable, and all serve important roles that jointly contribute to the overall success and mission of the university. While all are important, there is a spoken and unspoken hierarchy and tenure, and decisions about who parks where need to be made. The tough ques­tion is who should be making these decisions?

In The Beginning
First, let’s learn more about the parking and infrastructure here at Penn State’s University Park campus and how we make it work: Penn State has more than 12,000 employees (10,200 registered for parking); 44,000 undergraduate students; 6,000 graduate students; and over 1,000 people who visit the University Park campus on a daily basis. As parking professionals, we strive to work in a fair, reasonable, and consistent manner as much as possible (not that those things always go hand-in-hand) to accomplish one primary goal: ensure that everyone is able to access campus, com­plete daily task(s), and exit campus safely, all while main­taining established parking allocations and providing an exemplary customer service experience. Easy, right?

Parking is a limited resource not only for our campus but also for many of you. Here at University Park, we main­tain 22,000+ parking spaces disbursed through 136 parking lots; 2,040 spaces are designated for resident student use, while 1,205 spaces are designated for long-term student storage and 3,600 spaces are reserved for staff and student com­muter use. As you can see, this often leaves us with more demand than capacity as the remainder of the spaces are used by faculty and staff, guests to campus hotels, true visitor parking, and stu­dents paying the on-campus pay stations.

The Parking Chair System
We employ a philosophy of granting some access to many people instead of a lot of access to just a few. Using this approach and a color and letter zone system, we look at each parking lot or deck designation separately (or at small clusters), then look at the general proximity to the numerous colleges or departments, and consider the number of employees designated within the surrounding buildings. To maximize usage, we allocate between 100 and 107 percent (for our core lots) depending on the size of the lot. For commuter lots our permit allocation is at almost 200 percent. Our allocation format does not account for all em­ployees in any given unit, but it does provide fair and reasonable access for all units that have employees in an area.

We then establish our permit allocations across our lots and decks for the respective departments and colleges. For example, if there are six departments or colleges with employees in the buildings surrounding a parking lot, we look at the ratio of em­ployees in each area and allocate the space based on that ratio. For example, if one college represents 45 percent of the employ­ees, that unit would get 45 percent of the parking spaces.
All our customers are important to us, and if you ask them, they will let you know their need is greater than everyone else’s. Students are fairly easy and fall into basic categories: those re­siding on campus, long-term on-campus and off-campus storage, and commuter, with each residence determining what permit each student is eligible to purchase. Faculty and staff, however, present a more complicated situation given the various positions and levels within the many positions.

University Park has a network of more than 100 designated parking chairs—people. Parking chairs are selected by each col­lege or department; typically these “volunteers” are within the human resources or faculty coordinator offices from each area. These are appointed positions, so the respective college or unit leadership has a vested interest in seeing this task performed as well as possible.
Parking chairs make the decisions within their departments as to who does or doesn’t receive a permit in high-demand park­ing areas. Transportation services does not have ready access to employees’ personnel records, so we do not know which faculty member may have tenure over another. We do not know whether a department offered parking within a lot under its allocation as a hiring incentive. We do not know the hierarchy that may exist within a department and how that dean views the pecking order when it comes to issuing parking permits. So we (happily) allow each college or unit and the parking chairs to determine their own criteria for assigning parking and to make those politically charged parking assignment decisions.

This system allows us to focus on the overall allocation and management of the parking spaces. It also allows chairs to be able to communicate directly with faculty and staff within their respective units, as the chairs provide a network of onsite rep­resentatives to answer questions and assist their staffs. Also, it removes the need for 10,000 faculty and staff to come to the parking office. One of the biggest advantages is that transpor­tation services does not have to make all the small decisions; it allows us to focus on the overall allocation and management of the parking spaces.

Of course, no system is without some drawbacks, and the park­ing chair system is no exception. The system is as good or as poor as each respective chair. Therefore, it is paramount to keep in regular contact with the parking chairs and perform spot audits to ensure accurate and updated records.
A major challenge is these are appointed positions, and staff­ing changes affect parking chair duties. For example, the univer­sity recently reorganized and centralized the human resources department. This brought about an almost 75 percent change in parking chairs and a large loss of institutional knowledge about parking at the chair level.
This shift in parking chairs happened in conjunction with other events. We were at the end of our three-year faculty/staff permit cycle and issuing of new permits, along with the imple­mentation our new online faculty/staff registration process. At first, the convergence of these events appeared to be looming as a potential major crisis. However, the events gave us a reason and opportunity to immediately meet with each of the new parking chairs for in-person training. We were able to turn potential cha­os into a productive opportunity to network with and establish a positive working relationship between our office and our newest representatives. These relationships are very important as we work to maintain a constant line of communication between the parking office and our parking chairs, making sure that faculty and staff permit holders have positive customer experiences.

The need to keep the data flow going and records as accurate as possible is critical not only to an efficient parking operation, but also our chair system. At first, our chairs used a two-part faculty/ staff registration form to record everything related to assigning or returning a permit, keeping a copy for themselves and sending us the other copy via interoffice mail.

At first, the convergence of these events appeared to be looming as a potential major crisis. However, the events gave us a reason and opportunity to immediately meet with each of the new parking chairs for in-person training. We were able to turn potential chaos into a productive opportunity to network with and establish a positive working relationship between our office and our newest representatives.

We have worked the past few years with T2 Systems to find a way to better use technology for our chair system. We recently implemented a preferred parker administration (PPA) program and opened an online portal for parking chair use. The portal al­lows parking chairs to determine the permit they wish to assign and add the employee to their online allotment. The chair then sends a quick email containing the permit number, employee name, and ID number to one of our personnel. Our staff then goes into the portal to complete the permit assignment.

Looking Forward
In addition to our parking chair network, the processes we have developed provide for the gathering and updating of faculty/staff permit data in real time, allowing for up-to-the minute informa­tion to be added, which opens the door for future applications, such as mobile parking solutions and license plate recognition (LPR) for access control and enforcement.

We mentioned that a benefit of the chair system is that we can focus more on overall allocations. This is becoming increasingly important as we, like many others, are faced with how to deal with the loss of parking. In addition to losing some parking recently, construction will begin this fall on a parking deck with over 1,600 spaces. This deck is being built on existing parking lots, many of which are overflow lots. Construction will result in a temporary loss of 277 spaces, and we are permanent­ly losing 17 spaces in one of the core lots that overflows into this area.

With these two projects, between 270 and 370 permit holders will be displaced during construction; for some, that loss will be permanent. The only place we are able to handle this volume of permits is on the other side of campus. Needless to say, many drivers will not be happy. This is where the chair system really comes into place. We will work with the chairs to reduce their allocations according to the appropriate percentage of the total allocations in the lots affected during and after construction. Parking chairs will determine who is reallocated and who will remain in the lots by the construction site.

Not only will the parking chair network provide us with a means of working through and assessing the effects of the spe­cific loss of parking, but it will be instrumental in helping to deliver important information for the upcoming parking-related changes to the building projects. In essence, the chairs will be the messengers of news many faculty and staff will not take well. At the end of the project, the parking chairs may have access and insight into information on the assignment or reassignment of office space and personnel into buildings around the construc­tion project. This information will provide us with the opportu­nity to work those changes into determining future allocations and trying to stay ahead of the curve of change.

We are not sure if this system would work everywhere. In many cases, peers tell us they’ve never heard of such a system. Maybe we benefit from developing this system at the outset of paid parking on campus. Or, perhaps given some of the unique and complex issues the Penn State University setting creates, the parking chair system will only work for us. We have found great value from the insights the parking chairs have to offer and have found this group to be a tremendous asset in the management of parking on campus.

Read the article here.

RYAN GIVENS, CAPP, is associate director of transportation services at Penn State. He can be reached at rjg22@psu.edu.

DAVID DORMAN, CAPP, is parking allocation manager at Penn State. He can be reached at djd6@psu. edu.



tpp-2016-03-ice-parkingBy Ryan J. Givens, CAPP

The unusual parking challenges faced at Penn State (and the creative solutions that worked) when a new ice arena was constructed on campus. 

What university wouldn’t love a brand-new ice arena for its hockey team? While it was certainly exciting (for all the right reasons) when Penn State opened its new facility more than two years ago, the arena also presented unusual challenges when it came to parking. Fortunately, it was nothing a little creative thinking couldn’t solve.

In September 2010, Terry and Kim Pegula donated $88 million to The Pennsylvania State University—the largest private gift in the university’s history—to fund a state-of-the-art, multi-purpose ice arena that would help establish NCAA Division I men’s and women’s hockey programs. In 2012, during the groundbreaking ceremony, it was announced that the donation amount had increased to $102 million. The money covered additional construction costs for the arena, operational costs, and some additional scholarships.

I did not start my employment with Penn State until January 2012, but as a lifelong hockey fan, I was already well aware of the pending construction of the arena and very excited to know I was moving to an area where there would be Division I hockey programs just a short drive from my new home. But as a parking professional, seeing the final site selection for the new arena brought on some serious concerns and worries. These concerns and visions of challenging parking situations emerged before I’d really begun to understand the ins and outs of the campus parking program and day-to-day parking requirements at Penn State.

The Arena
Allow me to paint a picture of where the Pegula Ice Arena (PIA) was built in relation to other campus buildings and facilities. In many ways, the eastern side of the University Park campus is a large athletic compound. To the south of PIA is Holuba Hall, an indoor practice facility for many of the sports teams; the Lasch football complex; an indoor and outdoor tennis complex; and the East Area Locker Rooms Building, which houses many of the sports teams’ locker rooms along with training and rehabilitation facilities. Located to the west of PIA is the field hockey complex and beyond that, the natatorium (swimming pool facility). To the north of PIA is the recently renovated and expanded Intramural (IM) Building, and to the east is the Bryce Jordan Center (BJC), which hosts the Penn State basketball teams, concerts, and other events. Just past that to the northeast is the 107,000-seat Beaver Stadium. Also in the vicinity of PIA are several other sports facilities, the military ROTC building, and the building that houses the admissions and bursar’s offices.

Most of the parking lots close to PIA are primarily permitted faculty and staff parking areas, with a few larger commuter parking lots in the vicinity as well. The faculty and staff lots are allocated to around 107 percent and reserved for permit holders to either 5 or 9 p.m., Monday through Friday. That higher allocation level still provides us the ability to handle daily permitted parking demand. PIA is open to the public daily from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m., sometimes opening even earlier and staying open later than posted operations hours. Daily activities inside PIA include public skate times, ice skating classes, other ice programs, a coffee club, youth and adult hockey leagues, small conferences, meetings, luncheons, and other regular events. The lots around PIA are permitted, so the most significant day-to-day challenge is providing enough parking for PIA patrons so they have a positive customer experience while ensuring our permit holders can still find spaces. One of the most important things we strive to do within transportation services is ensure that everyone who comes to campus has a positive experience. We do not want to be the reason a patron of the PIA, the campus hotels, or any other facility or venue does not return.

While PIA was under construction, we already were giving strong consideration to adding multi-space pay stations at selected locations on campus. One unique situation we faced was that one of the lots adjacent to PIA is the primary lot for the daily customers of the admissions and bursar’s offices. Additionally, many of our faculty and staff permit holders had voiced preemptive concerns about how PIA was going to affect the availability of parking for them, their personnel, and their daily customers. Knowing where we could assign PIA patron parking and in what amounts, we determined the best way to immediately address these issues was by moving forward with the plan to add multi-space pay stations strategically around PIA, which we did in late 2013. Depending on the lot regulations and number of additional daily patrons we could handle, we set up the multi-space pay stations either on a pay-by-space basis to limit parking to one-hour or pay-by plate in lots where we could handle large volumes and allow longer transient daily parking.

Meeting Challenges
For the most part, deployment of the pay stations, along with significant communications efforts, have worked very well and minimized most potential day-to-day conflicts. There have been two recurring situations, no matter our efforts, that lead to the majority of parking citations issued in the area:

  • Inside the arena is a well-known sub sandwich chain. Many customers knowing or thinking they are only going to be inside 15 to 30 minutes choose to gamble and risk not paying the $1 hourly rate at the pay station. Unfortunately, those visits often end with someone’s sandwich becoming quite expensive.
  • The faculty and staff lot with multi-space pay stations is reserved until 5 p.m.—not 9 p.m. like other facilities. Some PIA patrons and campus visitors take a chance that they will not receive a ticket between 4:30 and 4:59 p.m. Many have found through experience that this is not the case. We have to continually use directed enforcement in this area to garner better compliance and keep it from becoming an overwhelming issue.

An interesting situation that we’re glad has only happened a few times occurs when PIA patrons use the pay station before entering the building; once there, they find out the public skate or class has been cancelled. These patrons want to be reimbursed for the hour or two of parking they paid for prior to entering the arena. Needless to say, this has resulted in some very interesting conversations with upset patrons and PIA staff. Even though our office wasn’t responsible for the mix-up, we’ve tried to be good partners and work to come up with solutions for each situation.

Some of these situations may be unique to a campus ice arena, but for the most part, the challenges we have faced are not much different then what many other universities face on a daily basis somewhere on campus. Parking for men’s hockey games, though, is really where more of our challenges have existed.

Game Day Parking
PIA holds a maximum capacity of approximately 6,100 patrons for each hockey game. Without competing events in surrounding venues nearby, there is more than ample parking within the vicinity of the arena to handle the demand. One of the specific event-parking challenges is that three of the lots designated as premium hockey game parking are reserved faculty and staff lots during the day; this includes the lot that serves the admissions and bursar’s offices. Changeovers from daily employee parking to premium parking on event nights required a limit to be placed on the number of hockey premium parking permits that were distributed. We worked very closely with Penn State Intercollegiate Athletics (ICA) to develop the initial premium parking permit distribution numbers and continue to work with ICA prior to each season to determine if modifications are needed.

We also knew that for games that started after early afternoon, it is often dark, cold, and windy, and there are overlapping events during hockey games. A solution was needed that created visibility for police officers and parking attendants as vehicles approached, sim plicity for season-ticket holders, and less exposure to the elements for our parking attendants on cold evenings and afternoons. Frank Pope, event parking coordinator, came up with an excellent concept for our three hockey premium parking lots: a game-specific, lot-specific, oversized hangtag made of reflective material that incorporates a detachable voucher that is collected by event parking attendants. These hangtags have worked so well for men’s hockey that a similar hangtag is now in use for the special parking areas for men’s and women’s basketball.

Building In More
When a nearby commuter lot was expanded, we took the opportunity to add more than 50 magnetic plates and Gorilla Post space delineators in the lot. These have not only allowed us the flexibility and ability to properly size the space we capture for Americans with Disabilities Act-parking patrons and premium overflow, but additional plates added later allow us the ability to control traffic flow out of some specific lots. This was very important in one of the lots during changeover from daily employee parking to premium parking, when failing to control the direction of exiting traffic added congestion and wait times to both the exiting and incoming vehicles. The posts are now used in several event lots and for many different events.

Addressing parking for hockey and a new arena required us to take our event parking planning to a new level as constant adaptability, creativity, and innovation became increasingly necessary pieces of our event parking operations. Never before did we need a tiered event-parking rate. Those attending non-athletic events without permits or vouchers paid $10 per vehicle; athletic event parking cost $5 per vehicle. Last season and again early this year, we anticipated almost sellout crowds—more than 15,000—attending a non-athletic event and a PIA sellout crowd of 6,100 for men’s hockey.

We put in place a tiered system for these events: $10 per vehicle in lots immediately adjacent to the events and $5 per vehicle to park in two parking decks about a quarter mile to the west. Hockey patrons are used to only paying $5 per vehicle so this was a change for them. The tiered rate was implemented to incentivize people to park farther away for a lower rate and try to spread out the parking through more locations to help ease the stress placed on the roadway infrastructure on and near campus. Spreading more parking to the west better allows university police officers to direct traffic in opposite directions post-event, rather than having thousands of cars try to exit in the same direction.

Creative Thinking
A typical hockey weekend consists of a Friday evening game and Saturday afternoon game that starts sometime between noon and 4 p.m. Several weeks ago, we had to take unusual steps to ensure that premium hockey parking would be available for the Saturday game; also scheduled that day were a men’s basketball game in the BJC, an all-day swimming event in the natatorium, an all-day volleyball tournament in the IM Building, and non-varsity hockey games on both ice rinks in PIA prior to the men’s game, plus several other smaller events. With so many events taking place, it would be very difficult to maintain premium hockey parking. We could have selected to staff the event lots very early in the morning, but this would lead to hours of many face-to-face discussions involving our event staff personnel being yelled at, which would be an onerous and unfair situation for them.

After much deliberation, we decided to communicate that we would be securing and locking those lots about an hour after the Friday night game. They would then reopen only after event-parking personnel staffed their positions for the Saturday game. Through the efforts and collaboration of our department, intercollegiate athletics department, and university police, we distributed the information, put up the necessary signage, and put in place steps to be taken if a vehicle was locked in one of the lots overnight. The new system was a huge success, with the only real complaint being from a basketball patron who was upset he could not park in one of these lots for free.

We continue to learn, adapt, and use creativity and innovation as opportunities present themselves. To date, we have conducted event parking for 48 Penn State men’s hockey games. The tremendous efforts of our event parking team and collaboration with others have successfully allowed all patrons to park in their respective lots for 47 of those games. We are not pleased that for one particular game all of the conflicting circumstances resulted in some customers having a less-than-positive customer experience. However, we are very proud of the constant professionalism and efforts displayed by our team, the learning-moment opportunities presented that we have capitalized on, and the overall high level of exceptional customer service we provide to our customers and our partners, ICA, PIA, and the BJC. If you ever have an opportunity to be in Hockey Valley during
hockey season, please come to a game. We would be happy to park you.

RYAN J. GIVENS, CAPP is associate director of transportation services at The Pennsylvania State University. He can be reached at rjg22@psu.edu.

TPP-2016-03 Ice Parking