Campus vehicle management moves forward

Tackling age-old campus transit concerns with green solutions and technology
By: | Issue: November, 2015
October 27, 2015
Duke University parking Garage IX in Durham, NC. The architectural context of this garage blends well with the surrounding buildings but also provides for a sustainable green design with the green walls and roof canopies. This structure has many sustainable features earning 31 LEED points.

As long as there have been cars on campus, there has been frustration over parking.

Hundreds of cars spewing exhaust as drivers troll for a free spot harms the environment. Inefficient campus-owned vehicles only worsen the situation. The fact is, old-school vehicle management strategies are running on fumes.

In the last few years, parking technology has caught up, allowing colleges and universities to upgrade systems and infrastructure. Yet higher ed officials are still mapping out the connections between parking operations, campus fleets and overall sustainability.

Jeff Smallidge, parking consultant in the Indianapolis office of Walker Parking Consultants, calls this kind of approach “an untapped gold mine.”

Paul Wessel, executive director of the Green Parking Council, goes one step further, calling transportation and parking key elements of sustainability programs. “Transportation produces almost a third of our country’s global warming emissions, and 60 percent of that comes from cars and light trucks,” he says.

Here’s how colleges and universities across the nation are shifting to smarter, more sustainable vehicle management strategies without reinventing the (steering) wheel.

Trimming traffic with carpools and bikes

The big buzzword heard around campus these days is “transportation demand management,” says Smallidge. Schools aim to ease parking struggles by reducing the number of cars on campus—which should also cut carbon emissions.

Lehigh University in Pennsylvania encourages students to use campus car sharing, car pools and other alternative programs for getting to and around campus.

“Part of our master plan is to move parking out of the center of campus and make it more of a walking campus,” says Bob Bruneio, manager of Lehigh’s transportation services. He sees getting cars to the outer perimeter as “kind of a win-win—providing a good greenway space, and a safer and more sustainable campus.”

The campus offers five Enterprise CarShare vehicles, which give students the flexibility of an on-site, short-term car rental as needed. In February, Lehigh launched Zimride with Enterprise, an online ride-matching service that connects drivers and passengers heading to the same area.

“Every month Zimride has grown. The service went from 75 total users in February to 135 by the end of the semester,” says Bruneio.

Promotion efforts for CarShare included offering free registration to first-year students (which is a $25 savings); for Zimride, the school marketed to students right before Spring Break to encourage them to share a ride to the airport.

Reducing single-occupancy vehicles on campus has many benefits, but it takes a village—or in the case of Salt Lake City-based Westminster College, an entire student body.

So far, the school has reduced the number of students and faculty driving alone to campus from 77 percent in 2010 to 57 percent last year, says Kerry Case, environmental center director and assistant provost for integrative learning. Student-driven ideas and a number of other factors contributed to this progress, she adds.

Students and faculty can get a free transit pass, borrow a bike via the campus bike loan program, or fix the one they have at the student-run campus bike shop. Westminster also implemented “rock star” parking, which reserves prime spots for carpoolers and fuel-efficient vehicles.

But charging for parking caused the biggest drop in traffic. “We saw a big decrease in emissions from transportation when we instituted the parking fee,” says Case. That fee is $150 per academic year for a daytime pass.

While many campuses hope students and faculty will pedal to class, the University of Kentucky pays them to do so. This past summer, officials at UK’s Lexington campus launched a bike voucher program.

Up to 100 qualified students and employees will receive a $400 voucher—redeemable at participating local bicycle shops—in exchange for agreeing not to bring a motor vehicle to campus for two years.

The school received 462 applications for the 100 vouchers, says Lance Broeking, UK’s director of parking and transportation services.

To make biking a more mainstream mode of transportation, the university has also improved its biking infrastructure, adding new paths and trails that connect various parts of campus. The effort earned the school Silver status as a Bicycle Friendly University by the League of American Bicyclists, an improvement from the honorable mention and Bronze designations received in 2011 and 2013, respectively.

The bigger picture

Car sharing, bicycle programs and other wallet-focused incentives that keep cars off campus are nothing new, but when combined as part of a larger strategic vision, they do more than just free up a few parking spaces. As Broeking says, “this is about changing behavior.”

Such programs help students and faculty understand the direct correlation between sustainability and their quality of campus life. Greener spaces and less traffic congestion make for a more inviting academic and social experience, not to mention cleaner air, all while saving the institution money.

“Schools are realizing that their stakeholders are paying more attention to these types of issues,” says Smallidge. In fact, as Westminster’s Case notes, students are the driving force behind many of the transportation initiatives.

Greening campus fleets

More institutions are adding alternative fuel vehicles to their fleets to reduce emissions and cut fuel costs.

“Vehicles powered by electricity, liquefied natural gas and propane are all contributing to reducing emissions and overall sustainability,” says Smallidge. At Georgetown University in D.C., for example, the fleet includes 40 electric golf carts to get around campus. The University of North Carolina, Greensboro Police Department now has two electric motorcycles.

Yale University is working with XL Hybrids to convert a few of its 20-passenger shuttles. “We wanted to find a way to reduce fuel burn, increase sustainability and improve air quality,” says Ronald Gitelman, a certified automotive fleet manager and the university’s fleet administrator.

Yale should be able to reduce emissions by up to 20 percent, despite its urban location, he adds. If the goal is met, further fleet upgrades will be rolled out. “We have to be good stewards of the funds we have, and can’t run out and outfit every vehicle at once,” he says.

Optimizing fleets with GPS tracking systems is another energy efficiency strategy. An example is software by GPS Insight, which is used by the University of Minnesota, University of Illinois and University of Alaska-Fairbanks to monitor speed, idling, route efficiency and vehicle maintenance. The data can guide drivers to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 20 percent, says Ryan Driscoll, marketing director.

The bigger picture

Implementing smarter fleet management solutions not only saves money and reduces greenhouse emissions, but also generates good publicity. Campus pride increases when an institution shows a commitment to fresher air and safer vehicles.

When Yale’s hybrid vehicles come into service, for instance, a news release gets issued to build excitement, and the vehicles sport “hybrid” decals to show off the institution’s commitment to sustainability, Gitelman says. From the president’s office to the students, a general sense of support is helping fuel each new campus transportation solution.

Guiding drivers to those elusive spots

Driving around to find a parking space can significantly contribute to greenhouse emission, so more schools are investing in systems that lead drivers to empty spots more quickly.

“Different payment systems like pay-on-foot machines, automatic vehicle ID systems, license plate recognition systems, and pay-by-cell phone all help the user get in and out of the garage quickly and reduce the amount of time the car is idling,” Smallidge says.

In addition, presenting real-time parking information on dynamic garage signage and via university apps can also reduce the amount of time drivers spend circling lots.

“Red light, green light” single-space detection technology allows someone looking down a drive aisle to easily spot a green light that indicates a space is open, says Smallidge.

One of the goals is to eliminate the “classmate stalking” that occurs in garages and parking areas when students in cars hope to find a spot by following others who are walking back to their car.

A few solutions being used in higher ed are AutoCount from T2 Systems, ParkEdge from Streetline and IntelliPark from BOSS Software.

The bigger picture

Parking is the first thing students (not to mention prospective families visiting campus) experience when they arrive each day, so making it hassle-free helps set the tone for a more positive campus experience.

In addition, monitoring technologies can enhance disabilities services. At Oregon State University, for example, Streetline’s ParkEdge helps ensure that there are adequate handicap parking spaces to meet the needs of disabled students and faculty.

Double-duty garages

Who says parking garages can’t be sustainable? “Typically most people think of parking garages as a place to leave your car, but a lot of projects we are involved in these days are mixed-used projects,” says Smallidge. Some schools have combined a garage and a rec center.

Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts got creative when it ran out of real estate on its urban campus but still had to accommodate a growing student body. Officials built a 534-car parking garage with a rooftop athletic field for softball, soccer, field hockey, lacrosse, rugby and other recreational activities.

“The very nature of the project is an important sustainable statement in that the land is being used for two purposes under one footprint,” says Alfredo DiMauro, assistant vice president of facilities. The school also packed the facility with sustainable features such as stormwater management, energy efficiency, electric vehicle charging stations, a Zipcar care-sharing location and bicycle parking.

The bigger picture

Parking spaces infiltrating every corner of campus can intimidate students from spending time outdoors. Worcester Polytechnic eliminated about 230 spaces elsewhere on campus when the garage opened, says DiMauro.

“We were able to remove pavement and have more open space for students to host events,” he says. “It’s been a tremendous asset and has transformed the campus.”

Dawn Papandrea is a Staten Island, New York-based writer and editor.