UVM and Transportation: Great potential but stalled progress

UVM and Transportation: Great potential but stalled progress

UVM faces a parking and transportation crunch, due to several factors, increasing use of parking by commuters, new buildings squeezing parking, replacement costs on an aging bus fleet and budget deficits. To make way for a renovated Gutterson and a new building in the Given Lot, UVM may have to eliminate 400 spots, close to 10% of the available spots. At the same time people feel that parking is a right that comes with a job and parents and others push for their kids to be able to bring cars to campuses.

UVM’s Parking and Transportation Department is besieged by complaints about inadequate parking from staff, faculty and students and visitors. In fact, a recent Board of Trustees meeting started with a Trustee asking the University to deal with the parking “problem.” When framed this way the solution is usually about increasing supply, rather than reducing demand. UVM has a choice between creating more supply or going all in on reducing demand. In an email to the Director of Parking and Transportation Jim Barr we list some ideas.

Date: Tuesday, November 7, 2017 at 10:36 AM
To: Jim Barr <Jim.Barr@uvm.edu>
Subject: Increase parking revenue AND do good for the environment!

Hi Jim:

I’m writing to offer some specific, research-based ideas to reduce the demand for parking at UVM, increase transportation revenues for T&PS and directly address the environmental impacts of UVM’s transportation footprint. Ideas that would showcase UVM’’s environmental leadership while providing real options for faculty, staff and students.

First of all, as you know the most effective solution to the “parking problem” is to reduce demand, not increase supply. While UVM has had some success switching some trips out of cars, that success seems to have stalled.  So for example, the number of faculty and staff that drive alone to campus has not changed in ten years, 53 percent in the most recent CATMA survey.

At the same time we have some excellent policies in place, from progressive parking fees to the unlimited access program. It is simply time to take those policies the next step. I am sure you are thinking about and working on many of these, but based on the research, and surveys with faculty, students and staff here at UVM, here are some ideas that could have immediate impacts:

We’ll start with the toughest and the most effective, increasing the cost of parking permits will reduce parking utilization. Rates have not increased in more than ten years. And most faculty and staff (according to surveys we have conducted) do not know how much they pay. Unbundling parking from a ‘line item’ benefit and increasing the cost to park would incentivize those with options to seek alternatives. (Note also that the T&PS external reviewer told us that parking is underpriced at UVM.  And, of course, as with all of these recommendations, they must be implemented in a thoughtful way that does not penalize those without options).

Secondly, we should consider raising the cap on those who make more than $100,000. If the highest paid people on campus start thinking seriously about and asking for real alternatives to driving alone it will have an important ripple effect across campus. For example, the research shows that when leaders use the transit system they can become strong advocates for improvements to the system.

Thirdly, each department and unit needs to be empowered to offer some very modest flexible time options to employees. Simply changing work times by 15 minutes can enable more employees to meet bus schedules.

Fourth, we need a comprehensive marketing campaign (with resources) that raises awareness of the TDM policies and transit options. This could include a better website, better placement of the TDM information on the website, regular promotions on social media platforms and a slew of other approaches.

Fifth, and coupled with the above, we need to use the data we have. Imagine a marketing campaign targeted at those within 1 mile of regular bus service that delivers 10 free one-day parking passes along with bus schedule and location. Or simply diving deeply in the CATMA survey data to find particular obstacles and solutions, rather than the general macro level detail provided.  We could also move towards additional choice questions, standard in TDM work, to understand how to further incentivize behavior change.

Sixth, the TDM programs could be enhanced and more clearly promoted. It needs to be very easy to sign up in one place for everything. And we should consider enhancing certain parts of the program, such as the guaranteed ride home, which seems to be infrequently used. As an aside, some of the benefits only work if all the carpoolers work at one organization. If there’s a carpool of both UVM and UVM MC Employees, they may not be eligible for the maximum benefits. Can we collaborate more with UVM MC?

Seventh, we may want to consider working directly with Green Mountain Transit to optimize bus routes that UVM affiliates take to campus. We are a large chunk of GMT income. We know where UVM affiliates live, and could work with GMT to increase headways and optimize routes so more people actually have a choice and a realistic option to take transit to and from work. At the same time, perhaps accelerate the implementation of the Active Transportation Plan to foster transportation alternatives and increase pedestrian and cyclist safety (i.e. the intersection at University Heights).

If we can reduce SOV use and increase other modes, including transit ridership, that creates a positive feedback loop —  e.g. the more people that ride the bus, the more routes there are and the more people that ride the  bus. At the same time, we know that land is limited around campus – freeing any possible parking demand can open up other opportunities for greater land utilization.

UVM has a chance for great leadership in this area, leadership that will benefit the environment, our staff, faculty and students, Vermont AND the University’s bottom line.

Thanks for the consideration and please let me know how we can support your work!.

Richard Watts


Richard Watts teaches policy and media studies at the University of Vermont and is a regular bike commuter, transit rider and pedestrian from his home in Hinesburg.