Plan looks to modernize campus parking

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Campus parking lots look to get a technological upgrade this summer, making for a more convenient experience for the campus community and visitors. And while it will come at a higher cost for drivers, campus officials say the changes are long overdue.

“Our existing system, both the gating structure and software that supports permits and renewals, is reaching the end of life,” said Lynn Logan, Associate Vice-President (Finance & Facilities), of the unstable 25-years-old software currently in use. “We really have no choice but to modernize.”

In response, Western launched the Parking System and Infrastructure Modernization program, a $2.7-million upgrade of gates and associated software. The upgrading process started more than 18 months ago. T2 Solutions was selected to provide new gating infrastructure. Western has used T2’s parking management system for the past 10 years. However, the new permit and gating systems will integrate all of the pieces of the parking infrastructure.

“Imagine, we bought the house, which is the control system, but we didn’t buy the front door, which are the permits, and we didn’t buy the back door, which is the gate control,” said Mark Van Den Bossche, Parking Services manager. “Now it is all going to be integrated.”

Existing permit holders will be given new hang tags to replace the transponders. Annual renewal will no longer be necessary. Parking and Visitor Services is currently working on the process for distributing the hang tags, however due to the graduated roll-out, users are asked to hold on to their transponders until the project is completed.

The system also allows for secondary access using a Western ONE card to get into the lot. All gated lots will also have an intercom system installed.

The new system allows Parking Services to track the number of vehicles in a lot. Currently, capacity is registered manually. The new system will enable the university to install ‘monuments’ across campus identifying the number of vehicles in a lot. This real-time tracking will also be available through a Park Me app, allowing permit holders and visitors to check which lots have available spaces using a smart phone or tablet.

“I think it will provide a much more seamless experience for our students, faculty and staff and visitors to the campus,” Logan said.

Additionally, in order to improve the parking experience for visitors, faculties and units will be able to send parking passes with a barcode access, or validate parking, similar to the practice at the London Public Library Central Branch. Coin-operated lots are being converted to accept credit cards. In January, lots will be retrofitted to accept debit cards as well. Attended lots and metered spaces will continue to accept cash. There will be no changes to the pay-and-display lots.

The credit and debit card lots will allow for hourly rate payments, rather than paying a flat rate, Van Den Bossche said. It will also include a 15-minute grace period.

Lambton, Medical Science, Social Science and Springett lots are among the first to see the changes. Installation of the gates is expected to begin mid-May, with completion in August.

There will be some disruption in lots due to the upgrade. However, if the infrastructure is not completed by the end of August, it will be put on hiatus until after Thanksgiving.

At Western, parking has a self-sustaining business model. “The university does not contribute in the investment or subsidize parking in any way. It is meant to be a standalone operation,” Logan said.

Parking Services had a substantial reserve of funds set aside to contribute to the upgrade. However, the investment in the new infrastructure is significant, Logan explained. Given the $2.7 million price tag, Parking Services will be looking to recover the overall costs over time.

What this means for permit holders is a monthly increase of $1.75 for core non-reserve, up to $10.60 for perimeter reserved beginning Sept. 1. Currently, Western offers the second lowest parking rates in the U15, a comparable list of peer institutions in Canada.

Permit Type Current Rate ($) Rate as of Sept. 1, 2016 ($) Increase ($)
Perimeter Non-Reserved 35.65 41 5.35
Perimeter Reserved 72.40 83 10.60
Core Non-Reserved 58.45 60.20 1.75
Core Reserved 117.60 121.20 3.60

In the past, Parking Services’ focus on keeping costs low led to below the average rates. With the modernization project on the horizon, rates will reflect a more accurate cost for parking on campus, since Parking as an ancillary service relies on permit fees to cover departmental operations and infrastructure investments.

“We are trying to improve on the equity amongst rates,” Logan said. “As Western’s parking has changed over time, most of it has been pushed to the periphery and we now have rate structures that aren’t really equitable. Some people pay a really low rate and park close to their building and others pay a high rate and park close to their building.”

Western’s Master Plan emphasizes expansion in the core, which will result in parking lots being pushed to the campus periphery, leading to less distinction between perimeter and core designations. To begin to address this inequity, there will be differential increases to the monthly rates for 2016-17.

There are currently about 7,000 permit holders on campus. While this number has remained consistent over the past five years, what has changed is the number of available spaces due to construction. As Western continues to expand its buildings according to the Campus Master Plan, many new structures will be located on existing parking lots.

“We will never be able to keep up with the demand for parking on campus,” Logan said. “We will have to have other transportation demand strategies over time. We do hope once we have more reliable and timely transit, that will be a pivot point where we won’t actually need to continue to manage a space for every person because they will have options. Western doesn’t have the space to recreate or duplicate parking every time it is taken away.”

The Campus Master Plan also includes Chemistry Lot as a possible location for a parking structure.

“We are starting planning for a parking structure on campus. That doesn’t mean it is a done deal, but we are starting planning for that,” Logan explained. “When we look to build structures, we will look to integrate them into the beauty of our campus.”

Parking Services encourages the Western community to take advantage of services, such as the carpooling program or bike locker rental, to alleviate some of the parking pressures on campus. London’s Rapid Transit, in whatever form it takes, will also provide additional access to the university.

While addressing the need for additional spaces, Logan is also hoping to change drivers’ expectations about where they are able to park.

“It’s about better utilization and directing people so they aren’t driving around looking for spots. You can’t expect to park next to your building because we don’t have the luxury to do that in all cases,” she said. “We want to make the best use of what limited capacity we have.”