The COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted huge disruption within the higher education ecosystem. The pandemic has forced educational institutions across the country to shift from in-person classes and experiences to video-conferencing and virtual learning. Yet, soon that may all come to a halt, as The New York Times informs that universities from across the country have already set plans in place to bring campus life ‘back to normal’ during this fall semester.
Forbes explains that universities will need to ensure students’ and faculty’s safety when reopening this fall semester. For instance, universities will need to make sure that there’s a downward trend in COVID-19 infections in their surrounding area and that public health tactics such as ensuring people are wearing face masks and social distancing will need to still be in place to keep everyone on campus safe.
On the other hand, large-scale universities will also need to adapt their parking infrastructures to prepare to welcome people back on campus. As students, faculty, and visitors start planning their return to college, parking administrators will have to navigate how to leverage their parking data to bring people back to campus in the most efficient and pleasant way possible.
To better understand the challenges large-scale universities in the US have to navigate throughout the academic year and learn how they’ve leveraged Spot’s smart parking solutions to manage these challenges, we’ve interviewed Bob Murray, the Chief Technology Officer for CampusParc, the company responsible for operating the parking ecosystem at the Ohio State University’s Columbus campus.
Bob was kind enough to share how parking administrators across US universities will have to prepare to bring campus life ‘back to normal’ as well as the diverse challenges they face when trying to enhance the parking and mobility experience on campus. Student population, campus size, sporting and other events, parking permits, and promoting sustainable forms of transportation are just some of the challenges we’ve discussed.
The Ohio State University, which is one of the largest in the US, perfectly represents the huge number of students, events, and parking permits large-scale universities across the country have to manage throughout the academic year.
The following are just some of the mobility and parking challenges large-scale universities across the country have to manage on a daily basis - and year after year thereafter.
Ohio State University has a student population of more than 67,000 students. This does not count the faculty, staff, and visitors that cruise around campus on a daily basis. As The Edvocate shares, the Ohio State University is among the largest universities in the US, but is certainly not the largest, as there are others with both a bigger number of students as well as a larger campus footprint.
Bob told us that The Ohio State University’s Columbus parking “consists of about 2.2 square miles, approximately 36,000 parking spaces, of which 14,000 are in garages and the other 22,000 are across 192 flat lots.” Both their campus and their student population size make parking and mobility at their campus a challenge parking administrators need to manage on a daily basis.
As Bob shared, the Ohio State University’s Columbus campus “hosts a lot of events throughout a semester, not just the big ones like football and basketball, but we also host between 200 and 300 smaller events a year that change the parking rules.”
Each campus event requires a different set of parking arrangements. The parking needs for a big football or basketball game, for instance, are certainly not the same as events such as commencement ceremonies or freshmen orientation sessions. Therefore, it’s of huge importance for universities to ensure their parking spaces can accommodate different types of events.
For this to happen, their parking infrastructure will need to embody integrated systems that ensure efficient communication at all levels and with all stakeholders involved. Otherwise, parking at events can be chaotic, harming the customer experience.
Parking permits tend to be a common source of headaches for students and campus visitors. As Parking Today explains, parking is one of the most confusing and frustrating issues affecting universities all over the country. Factors such as rising student enrollment are creating parking shortages throughout many campuses - making campus parking an even bigger challenge.
In the Ohio State University’s Columbus campus alone, Bob Murray shares that there are more than 50 parking permits. Think about that for a second, 50 different types of parking permits!
The question most universities find challenging to answer efficiently is: how can students, visitors, and faculty have digital and real-time access to where they can park with their specific parking permit?
Currently, most universities across the country are relying on static PDF maps detailing where they are eligible to park according to the parking permit they hold. Such reality tends to make campus parking a frustrating process, as drivers cruising for specific permit parking tend to rely on habits and custom rather than real-time insights when parking - often picking the same parking lot over and over again.
Yet, what happens if their usual parking lot is full? Or if they'd like to park nearer to their destination? Is the PDF map helpful enough?
Bob Murray sees a clear need for “flexibility within campus parking systems.” He shares how universities, especially large-scale ones, need to be “able to digitize these (parking) rules and show where, when, and at what specific times you can park, based on the events that are happening.”
Parking is just the first step to a usually pre-planned journey. Whether it’s to attend classes, go to an event or cheer on their favorite sports team; students, faculty, and campus visitors would really benefit from having access to digital campus maps on their smartphones.
Having the opportunity to pre-plan their parking journey by viewing where they can park given their specific parking permit, knowing how long they can park there, having access to real-time data on parking spaces available, or how much does parking cost per hour can greatly simplify the whole parking process for them - all of which contributes towards an enhanced campus experience.
Universities today also have a strong influence when it comes to promoting sustainability within their campus. From recycling initiatives to carbon sequestration to sustainable forms of mobility, universities can encourage students to live in a more sustainable manner.
A key way university campuses’ can drive sustainability is through the way people move around campus. By reducing the amount of time drivers spend looking for parking around campus, reducing the need for single private vehicle use by encouraging ride-share and public transport, and promoting micromobility options around campus, universities can ensure greener forms of mobility within their ecosystem.
Large-scale universities present great opportunities to achieve impactful ways to both promote sustainable mobility as well as to enhance the campus experience.
As Bob Murray shares, Spot leads with a customer-focus approach. Our smart campus parking solutions enable parking administrators to make decisions based on data - all while enhancing the campus and mobility experience.
At Spot, it is our mission to simplify the parking and mobility experience within university campuses. We understand the complex challenges large-scale universities go through during the academic year - and have developed customer-centric solutions for universities to focus on what truly matters: their students.
By digitizing campus parking maps, allowing drivers to personalize their parking journey, providing a stress-free parking search, and empowering parking managers to make real-time communication changes through an integrated administrative parking dashboard, we are building upon our vision of creating smarter, greener, and safer communities.
“Our customer service team, they absolutely love using the Spot interface.” These words by Bob Murray let us know we are on the right track.