Game Changer: Digitized Event Parking on Campus

March 1, 2023
Mark Frumar

As featured in the March 2023 Issue of the International Parking and Mobility Institute (IPMI) Magazine.

Game Changer (noun) = “an event, idea, or procedure that affects a significant shift in the current manner of doing or thinking about something.”

For decades, event parking has been a logistical nightmare for universities. As student enrollments and campuses grow, so do the challenges—especially for event parking. There is no denying the hours, months, and years of planning and strategizing over the logistics of event parking on campuses. However, there comes a time (thanks to the push of a global pandemic and the parking industry evolving in leaps and bounds) when Parking and Transportation departments turn their focus towards future technologies that are quite literally ‘changing the game’ of the traditional parking experience.

7 ‘Game Changing’ event parking insights on university campuses:

1. Arrival Experience The arrival experience is the first impression that attendees have of the event itself, with the experience beginning before the attendee even leaves their home, and continuing until they finally get to their seat.

Although multiple departments plan and collaborate prior to an event—parking planning, event operators, facilities management, police and safety, transport, ticketing and more—in many cases the overall arrival experience for the customers can often be an afterthought. While event and transportation departments always manage to make it work, this problem is not limited to campuses. Even professional sports stadiums raise this as being their greatest area for improvement.

2. Communication with the Attendees One of the most common grievances from frustrated event attendees is a lack of communication. People can be forgiving to a point when their arrival is slowed down, as long as they understand why and are kept informed. This communication can begin well before they arrive at the campus. Attendees want to understand how they are getting there, the best entry to take, the best time to depart, and what they can expect once they get to campus. To date, the correct tools to act as this communication medium have either not existed or not been used properly. Parking and mobility digitization is here to solve this. By putting the information in the hands of the attendees well before the event, they can now make informed decisions about their arrival, ensuring they make it to their seat on time.

3. Operators Managing Parking from Single Source of Information On the day of the event, parking conditions and occupancy can change quickly, and parking operators need to provide guidance based on real-time availability. To achieve this, all operators (including administrators, police and public safety) require a single system unifying data from multiple sources, including ticketing, digital signage, utilization tracking, police, parking, and more. Via the digitization of parking and unification of live parking data into a single interface, operators can access up-to-the-minute guidance information in their hands, ensuring that drivers are being guided only to their preferred/open parking location for their entitlements. This, in turn, helps to reduce congestion and improves the arrival experience by getting them to their parking space as quickly and easily as possible.

4. Integrations with Event Systems Key to this process is consistency across all forms of guidance—whether it be operators providing advice, digital signage guiding drivers to available parking lots, or mobile parking guidance delivered to the phone. To ensure consistency, there must be a single system that acts as the hub, unifying the existing data from all event-related systems and pushing the information to each of the guidance methods. This capability already exists, and smart event administrators are taking steps to digitize their operations to achieve this goal of consistency in guidance and adjusting their event planning with the parking utilization data collected during each event.

5. Route Guidance & Live-Site Information A common issue raised by event planners is that of route guidance on entry and directions to parking. While most campuses have multiple points of entry, without guidance on the smoothest point to enter for specific parking locations, drivers tend to clog popular entry points leading to campuses needing to open parking up to six hours ahead of the event. In this case, destination guidance solutions such as Google Maps can serve as a hindrance rather than a benefit, as they guide drivers to the campus but don’t advise them on how best to enter based on the real-time parking conditions. Road closures must also be considered in how they will affect the movement of traffic.

By having preset route guidance to the ideal entrance for the attendee, the arrival time can be minimized, and overall congestion can be drastically reduced. Up-to-the-minute information is vital and via integrations with live data feeds from utilization tracking solutions, triggers can also be set to alter the guidance based on the live conditions such as when lots hit capacity. Once a lot hits capacity, drivers can be guided to the next best available place to park and the ideal point of entry, ensuring they don’t clog traffic re-routing for parking on arrival.

6. Purchasing Parking and Tailgating Options to purchase parking also have a direct effect on the flow of traffic on event day. While smaller events can be managed by incorporating nearby lots and entry points, large events can be an entirely different hurdle. Not only do administrators need to provide parking reservation options ahead of time, but they must also cater for a huge influx of attendees driving to the campus with a plan to find and purchase parking on arrival. We must not forget the donors and season ticket holders that want to select specific spaces near the stadium. By digitizing the parking options down to the level of individual bays, as well as providing the administrators the ability to set event-specific parking templates, administrators can publish the parking set up and inform the attendees of their specific options via a visual dashboard, at the time of purchasing their tickets.

Tailgating is one of college and professional sports favorite pastimes. Using digital parking reservations, those looking to tailgate can select the exact space they want by viewing the available options and cost for each. They can be guided to the precise location on the day of the game, and provided easy directions for friends to meet up at their spot. Administrators can incorporate a tiered pricing model for the preferred locations, or leverage dynamic pricing based on demand for the event.

7. Encourage Alternative Transport Options That said, optimizing the arrival experience should not exclusively be dedicated to improving parking access alone. Administrators should be focused on communicating all options to access the campus, helping attendees make informed transport decisions ahead of the event. An ideal plan incorporates parking, public transportation, rideshare, bus shuttles, and even micro-mobility in the last mile where possible. By presenting all these options within a single interface, the arrival experience can be personalized to the user seeking information on the best way to access the event.

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