University Loses Parking: Mobile Parking Technology Provides Solution

Article by: Josh Stone, Director of Transportation & Parking Services at the University of Central Oklahoma


When is adding 646 spaces a bad thing? When you lose 927. Since 2002, the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO) has seen a reduction in campus parking spaces. The culprit? Buildings.

Over the next few years, the university is slated to lose an additional 200-600 spaces largely because of more infrastructure going up on campus.

Since 2002, UCO has lost 927 parking spaces while only gaining 646 spaces. Within the next 3-5 years, the university is projected to lose an additional 200-600 spaces with buildings being placed on parking lots. This is not just a UCO problem; universities around the country will, or are already, facing the challenge of losing parking spaces and transportation – due to an over abundance of new students, buildings, etc. Parking departments are having to find creative ways to keep access, convenience, and predictability in the hands of its customers.

A surface parking lot is temporary, it is only around until a building is built on it.

UCO has confronted this issue head on, working quickly to evaluate new technology in the parking industry. Items such as:

  • Occupancy count systems
  • Pay stations
  • LED lighting
  • Pay-by-cell
  • Parking structure
  • Changes to parking model
  • Parking space replacement policy (under consideration)

All of these items have been brought to campus.

Transportation Demand Management (TDM) is essential to any university parking operation at the moment. TDM tells us that the customers care about three things: price, convenience, & accessibility. In this day and age, it is mostly impossible for a parking operation to offer all three.


What we need to be focusing on is offering the customer options. Universities are quickly leaving the “hunting license” model of parking. Universities would sell as many parking permits as possible because they knew all of the spaces would not be full at once, this model does not guarantee the parker a space, but rather authorizes them the right to hunt for a space. This works well for universities with a small enrollment and an abundance of parking, which is why it worked well in the early 1990s. As universities have grown and need more and more buildings, parking has shrunk, making the parking space an elusive find for students, faculty, staff, and visitors.

Universities are combating these issues by increasing technology across their campuses. Pay-by-cell is an excellent feature– it allows the parker to park and pay remotely on their phone via an app, such as Passport’s. They pay using a credit card, receive a text when their time is about to expire, and have the option to extend their parking time without returning to the meter. This is an excellent convenience for the parker, while eliminating the stress of receiving a possible citation.

Pay stations are beginning to replace the single-space parking meter on campuses around the country as well. These pay stations allow the campus to look more aesthetically pleasing and allow for the parker to pay by cash, coin, credit card, and pay-by-cell if the university chooses.

Another item universities are looking at is multi-faceted. Universities are upgrading their parking lot lighting to LEDs. This is a significant expense– UCO has spent about $500,000 to upgrade its lights, but not only does it make the campus community feel safer, deter thieves, and save the university money (LEDs are efficient)…it makes students, faculty, and staff feel safer about walking to their vehicles later at night.

Occupancy count systems have begun to take off as well. These systems, which come in many shapes and forms, allow the parker to know where open parking spaces are at their destination. Systems like the one UCO has currently, only allow the parker to know once they get to campus and see a sign at the entrance of the lot. However, others have apps and alerts that pop up on your smartphone. This system gives the parker the knowledge they need to save time and figure out where the open spaces are and which lots they should look in.

The biggest item universities are doing to combat the parking crunch is looking at its parking model. As much as they would like to, not everyone can park at the front door.

As mentioned above, universities are moving away from the hunting license model to a demand-based system. This new system solves all of the problems parkers are most frustrated with:

  •      Predictability of finding a parking space
  •      Convenience (not having to search long for a parking space)
  •      Pricing options

Within this new model, universities break their campus up into different zones and price them according to demand. They only sell a certain number of permits to increase the predictability of the parker finding a space, then in their zone, offer a “park-down” feature. This allows them to park one zone down if they cannot find a space in the zone they choose. This model offers the parker options based on their needs and provides them with a value that meets the price they paid. Universities that switch to this model have to ensure they have a strong alternative transportation program (bus, bike, rental car), because in this model, not everyone will have the opportunity to buy a permit and you will price people out.

University parking operations face a unique challenge in that virtually everyone is their customer. At UCO, we currently have 6,590 parking spaces and parking administrators have to figure out how 16,000 students and 2,000+ faculty/staff can get to campus, find parking in an efficient manner, and conduct their business. On top of that, we must figure out how to do more with less while our university grows and takes up more parking real estate. One thing is for sure, it is an interesting and challenging time to be a parking administrator.