INTERNATIONAL PARKING & MOBILITY INSTITUTE | MARCH 2019
36 All Aboard
Reviving a transportation system with innovation and a public-private partnership
MAKING THE NUMBERS WORK
Strategizing for university parking and transportation success. 20
LET GO OF THE WHEEL
Getting drivers out of their cars with inbound marketing. 24
NEW TECH, LESSONS LEARNED Three years after implmenting LPR on campus, what’s changed? 30
KEEPING THE PULSE UP
The roles played by university parking and transportation professionals. 42
How the University of Texas at Arlington revived a transportation system with innovative systems and a public-private partnership. By Greg Hladik, PhD
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HE CITY OF ARLINGTON, TEXAS, was the largest city in the country without public transportation. It is also home to the second largest university in the University of Texas System: the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA). That means that on this 420-acre campus in the heart of the Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) metroplex, the nearly 43,000 students at UTA had limited options for moving throughout the university and municipality and limited connections to the greater region. Students at this regional urban institution lacked the robust transportation infrastructure available to most other municipalities and institutions its size. An innovative journey that allowed UTA to revive its transportation system through developing public-private partnerships, using technology, and reallocating financial resources fixed all that.
The university funded two primary transportation services through a $25-per-student annual transportation fee that paid for nearly half of the transportation budget. The campus shuttle circulator carried passengers to various locations throughout campus, and the late-night security service provided an on-demand, door-to-door service that took students where they needed to go after dark aboard
golf carts. Three main problems existed with these university-provided services: ■ There was no comprehensive mass transportation infrastructure in place to move customers throughout the campus, city, and region. The DFW metroplex has a car-centric culture, and public transportation options were not available near campus as an alternative for customers without personal vehicles. The campus circulator had limited off-campus reach, resulting in UTA becoming a desert island in the heart of the metroplex for customers without personal vehicles. ■ Existing transit equipment was mundane, inefficient, and outdated. The university self-operated a shuttle service that lacked reliable equipment, had no technological conveniences, and was plagued by inconsistent service times. The late-night golf cart security service had a reputation for long wait times, inefficient dispatching, and vehicles too small to meet demand.
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Mav Mover Shuttle Ridership Annual 2016‐2019 Running Total
350,000 300,000 250,000 200,000 150,000 100,000 50,000 0
Low priorities and limited financial resources plagued ridership for several years leading up to the 2017–2018 academic year. Traditionally, students paid a small transportation fee to fund the university-operated campus circulator and late-night golf cart security service, but they rarely found value in using the system. As a result, ridership was stagnant and customers couldn’t trust the park-and-ride system enough to opt-in. Parking lots exceeded capacity, leading to an exasperating parking experience. All in all, customers were unimpressed with the existing parking and transit options. All these problems led to additional parking occupancy and demand-management concerns for campus, as the majority of customers brought personal vehicles to campus for use on a daily basis. The parking strategic plan required a comprehensive parking and mobility plan to support remote parking lots and spread customers throughout available lots, but the lack of reliable mobility solutions hindered the campus parking plan. Campus administration also understood the system was not a good use of the students’ fee, which funded about half the cost of the service. The department sought community feedback on the issue by hosting forums, surveys, and partnerships to better understood customers’ needs and desires for a more effective transportation service. A plan was devised to generate new value-added features that would expand service, improve equipment, enhance security, and promote access through an innovative and robust mobility plan. ■
UTA developed a plan to address mobility challenges and revive its mobility system with a focus on an improved customer experience. In addition to making changes on campus, the university began moving students
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throughout the city and region. All this was done without increasing the transportation fee by reallocating financial resources, using enhanced technology, and establishing strategic public-private partnerships.
Reallocating Financial Resources
UTA prides itself on being one of the most affordable four-year institutions in the country. As such, increasing the transportation fee was not an option. Parking and transportation services (PATS) management developed an innovative strategy to free existing revenue and generate new revenue in two ways: cost savings and sponsored stops. The department began exploring a move to outsource the university-operated shuttle bus program as a cost-saving mechanism. The service operated on a fairly lean budget, but upon further research, PATS learned private transportation provided a better value to the university. After a competitive process, Groome Transportation was awarded the contract to operate the new campus circulator. The option provided dedicated on-campus staff to oversee the movement of shuttles while saving UTA approximately $1.8 million during the life of the contract. The department was then able to use a portion of these savings to fund initiatives in other aspects of the revamped mobility plan. Second, PATS generated new revenue through sponsored stops at private, off-campus student apartments. These new stops expanded the campus circulator to off-campus properties centric to student activities. The expanded route for students living off-campus was a win-win solution that provided viable and reliable transit options so students could leave their vehicles parked offsite and still get to class; this reduced parking congestion for others.
Third, the UTA police department received revenue from a security fee that was allocated to improving safety and security resources for the campus community. PATS was able to secure $60,000 of this revenue annually to expand the late-night security escort service from a five-day, 7 p.m.–1 a.m. service into a seven-day, 7 p.m.–3 a.m. service. Through a reallocation of financial resources, PATS was able to create meaningful savings from a lean budget and implement value-added features of the new mobility plan. The department did this in three specific ways: technology enhancements, equipment improvements, and expanded service.
GPS data proves invaluable as headway counts can now be tracked to ensure the wait times are kept to a minimum. Additionally, automated passenger counting systems allow drivers to focus on service and safety instead of trying to keep up with manual passenger counts. Most significantly for the late-night security service, introducing an app-based request platform has turned the service into a car-share-like experience. Drivers can automatically be rerouted to pick up new passengers along the route, maximizing the number of customers carried per trip. Additionally, students can now see exactly where the vehicle is in real-time and then decide to study a bit longer or start heading for the door. The new technology enhancements provide an immediate, value-added proposition for customers. This helps the department meet the customers’ expectations for the service they were ultimately funding.
New technology connects the campus community with existing mobility options. Gone are the days of sitting at a stop, wondering when the next bus will arrive or phoning a dispatcher to request a security ride and having a golf cart appear—already at capacity. Partnerships with Doublemap and Tapride have improved technology and answered the most pressing question department staff received: “Where is the vehicle, and when will it be here?” Passengers now have the answer at their fingertips through the company app and are able to set notifications for when the vehicle is nearing, allowing them to receive instant communication of any route delays or modifications. Additionally, the new technology provides a wealth of valuable data to department decision-makers. Using this data, staff was able to better understand the supply and demand patterns for each service and allocate appropriate resources to maximize the customer experience.
Other improvements to the system include equipment upgrades. Outsourcing the shuttle service allowed the department to immediately upgrade all shuttle vehicles with a fleet of new Starcraft Allstar F-550 buses. The buses were then branded with eye-catching UTA designs that rebranded the shuttle bus to the Mav Mover. For the first time, the look of the buses helps the service stand out on the busy Arlington streets. Additional funding went to replace the aged and wrong-sized golf cart fleet. The four-passenger carts were replaced with new eight-passenger carts that can keep up with growing demand. Branding was also added to these vehicles.
ate Night Security scort Ridership Annual 2016‐2019 Running Total
70,000 60,000 50,000 40,000 30,000 20,000 10,000 0
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Finally, and probably most impressive, PATS has been able to expand overall service in three ways: ■ A secondary bus was added to every existing route. This reduces the headways from 20 minutes to eight to 12 minutes. ■ A regional connection was established with the University of Texas Research Institute in Fort Worth. This new route provides a much-needed transit line from Arlington to Fort Worth. ■ A makeover of the Saturday off-campus shopping route created access to more than 50 new off-campus shopping, dining, and entertainment destinations. The shopping shuttle was modified from a Saturday-only, three-stop shopping route to a fiveday evening service that now includes new stops that connect students with once-remote grocery stores, the Texas Rangers’ new event and dining venue, and new shopping destinations. Additionally, the $2 boarding fare was eliminated, making this a frequently standing-room-only service—unheard of at UTA!
Shuttle ridership has exceeded expectations by growing more than 86 percent since the changes were implemented. The golf cart security service ridership increased 165 percent, shopping shuttle ridership increased an astonishing 957 percent, and better oversight and technology helped reduce bus headways by 52 percent. Public-Private Partnerships
Department managers knew they couldn’t implement this mobility plan alone. As a result, campus partnerships were formed with the office of sustainability. Working collaboratively, that group established a public-private partnership with Zagster for bikesharing, allowing customers access to intra-campus facilities where larger vehicles cannot go. This allows students better mobility around campus without the need of their vehicles, helping reduce lot-hopping and encouraging park-and-walk throughout campus. A public-private partnership with Zipcar allows resident and international students without personal vehicles a way to connect with the greater city and region. Local sponsorships allowed the department to establish these initiatives without expending any financial resources. As a result, more than 20,000 reservations have been
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made since 2015, totaling more than 621,000 miles driven and reducing carbon emissions by 875,000 pounds.1 This has had a tremendous effect on the quality of the student experience for customers without vehicles, who now have access to the greater DFW metroplex thanks to the enhancements made to the UTA transportation system.
The effects of these cumulative changes were immediately apparent even though additional value-added features and future expansion are not yet fully realized. In addition to the financial savings of $1.8 million, key metrics include ridership, permit, and headway data. Shuttle ridership has exceeded expectations, growing more than 86 percent since the changes were implemented. The golf cart security service ridership increased 165 percent, shopping shuttle ridership increased an astonishing 957 percent, and better oversight and technology helped reduce bus headways by 52 percent. Service reliability convinced many more passengers to take advantage of the added convenience of shared campus transportation options. As a result, park-andride permit sales increased 73 percent. This decreased parking demand on priority parking lots by helping spread occupancy across all available lots on the 420acre campus. The overall result is a mobility system that is highly used and reliable and works alongside the strategic parking plan to park cars and move people at UTA. Most mandatory fee increases at state institutions seem to require an act of Congress. UTA’s method of reimagining existing services without increasing fees can be replicated by other institutions without the need for legislative involvement. In addition, campuses with under-developed municipal transit systems should consider public-private partnerships to fill the gaps, connect destinations, and move campus constituents. The result of UTA’s systematic transportation service overhaul is a refreshed and robust mobility system that continuously sets ridership records, expanded daily service miles by 29 percent, and provided a much-needed facelift to a stagnant shuttle system. Even with the significant improvements, there is much more to come! GREG HLADIK, PhD, is director, parking and
transportation, University of Texas at Arlington. He can be reached at email@example.com.
1. Susan Shaheen, University of California, Berkeley 2016 (one active member removes 1,600 lbs of CO2 annually and one Zipcar removes 13 personally owned vehicles from campus).
From the March 2019 issue of The Parking Professional.