The Parking Conundrum of Today’s Mobile Students

Article published in Parking Today by: Tom Wiese, sales executive at Passport


Consider today’s average college student: busy, tech-savvy, strapped for cash, and probably not carrying around a lot of loose change. Many are juggling part-time jobs along with a full-time course load, and none of them are keen on searching for a parking spot or feeding a parking meter before class.


It’s a difficulty that ails most universities and their students. For example, at UCLA, the ratio of parking to students is significantly disproportionate. The LA Times reported that 72,000 people traverse the campus daily, yet there are about 23,000 parking spaces in total. Some 12,000 students living in residential housing are able to obtain parking permits only if there’s a “compelling need.”


Delivering Convenience to Students, Updating Tech and Managing Budgets


Arguably, universities face even more infrastructure and parking-related challenges than students; but it’s a headache for everyone.


First, there’s major pressure to deliver convenient transportation and parking options to both students and faculty, while complaints are plentiful. Second, updating technology of any kind isn’t always a simple or fast process when it comes to getting administration on board. Public colleges are government entities, so approval processes are multifaceted, and they don’t happen overnight.


Space isn’t an easy answer, either. A lot of college campuses have limited room for new parking garages, and a decision could come down to choosing between new classrooms or labs and a parking garage.


Most important, colleges don’t have unlimited budgets, and parking costs are an inhibitor. Parking building costs are significant: between $18,000 and $30,000 per spot on the higher end if the garage is underground. A single space in a conventional parking lot costs about $2,000 to build, and hiring personnel to manage a parking lot is another expense entirely, the Times article noted.

There’s no perfect solution. Some colleges have made an effort to encourage public transportation by offering free bus passes; others have implemented bike-sharing programs and set up “bicycle valets.” A number of institutions have even begun staggering class schedules to mitigate traffic.


Making Parking Easier with a Mobile Pay Platform


Here’s where a solution such as a mobile pay platform can make a major impact.


Rather than opting for the high costs and arduous process of maintaining and continuing to purchase meters or other parking hardware, colleges can implement a mobile application that allows campus parkers to manage their parking activity on their phones, and with little to no upfront costs.


Students, faculty and visitors simply download the application to be able to purchase digital parking permits, pay for hourly parking, or pay for ticket violations, depending on how the particular university has configured its options.


The app supplier can also offer a so-called  “digital wallet,” which allows students (or their parents) to add funds to a mobile wallet and begin parking at select locations with ease.


Colleges can cost-effectively deliver a mobile pay application that gives convenience to students, monetizes previously non-revenue-generating spaces, positively impacts their bottom line, and funnels payments back into the school to be used on other projects. They can see better parking compliance, enjoy data-driven analytics to make better decisions for the future, reduce costs and increase revenue overall.


Private Label Apps, Monetizing with Flex Space, and Collaborating with Communities


A mobile pay app also must offer customization options and ways to team with cities to mutually benefit public transportation for both colleges and communities.


Universities can opt for a parking application that enables mobile pay in an easy-to-use interface. They can also have the option to implement a custom, branded app and tailored to meet the unique needs of the institution. Michigan State University (SpotOn), the University of Illinois (MobileMeter) and Portland State University (Parking Kitty), for example, are some of the most popular private label apps that have been implemented at universities.


Mobile apps can also work with universities by uncovering opportunities for new revenues by enabling “flexing” of existing parking lots.


For instance, the University of Nebraska at Lincoln had many parking spots dedicated to students and faculty that were used during class hours, but remained empty during off-peak time. The university worked with the app supplier to build a flexing option that allowed those same spots to be used by permit-holders during the day and easily transitioned to hourly parking during large events or after-hours for visitors. Not only did the university see its mobile payment utilization rate go from 36% to 50%, but the flexible parking option has yielded a new source of revenue without any capital expenditures, while providing new parking options to campus visitors.


Finally, helping pair universities with their local cities is another possibility. The University of Iowa was able to use the same app alongside Iowa City, creating a large shared user-base.


Having a unified app between the city and the university resulted in a better way for people to move between campus and city, and gave the university a new way to communicate announcements such as holiday hours or space closures. Additionally, the university gained access to real-time and historical data, which it plans to use for planning to improve the driving and parking experience across campus.


Easing Parking Headaches


Universities will likely continue to be pushed for space and funds when it comes to providing parking services, but mobile apps can ease some of the burden by offering innovative mobile pay solutions.


By revolutionizing the way people pay for parking and move about campuses and communities, they can solve many of the challenges of parking, with a distinct application for every client that fits their specific needs, rather than the other way around.


Tom Wiese is a sales executive at Passport. He can be reached at