The Future of Parking and Rates at Duke

Vice president for administration talks about plans for new parking rate structure

Nearly 27,000 Duke parking permits are in circulation, which has filled up many lots across campus. Photo by Bryan Roth.
Nearly 27,000 Duke parking permits are in circulation, which has filled up many lots across campus. Photo by Bryan Roth.

Q&A with Kyle Cavanaugh, vice president for Duke administration

Seven parking garages. 25,938 parking spaces. More than 3 million bus passengers a year.

Duke's parking and transportation system is large and dynamic, providing millions of dollars worth of service to students, employees, visitors and patients each year.

But revenue is not keeping up with expenses, and changes are needed to ensure Duke's parking garages and lots are maintained and upgraded, and investments are made in technology.

Working@Duke talked with Kyle Cavanaugh, vice president for administration, about plans for a new parking rate structure and infrastructure improvements in the coming years.

Kyle Cavanaugh
Kyle Cavanaugh

Can you offer a sense of the size and scope of the Parking and Transportation Services operation?

Duke has an integrated system for both parking and transportation across the university and health system. We sell about 27,000 parking permits and maintain nearly 26,000 parking spaces. We provide parking for our faculty, staff, students and thousands of visitors and patients who come to Duke every day, and the demands for capacity continue to grow. On an annual basis, we provide parking at more than 1,100 special events, ranging from performing arts and athletics to memorial services in Duke Chapel. We break the transportation world into a few components. We move staff and faculty back and forth between remote parking lots, and we transport students across campuses and to certain off-campus locations. We also run a van services program, which becomes important during late evening hours when buses are not running. Over the last several years, we've also made great strides in the area of transportation demand management with initiatives like the GoPass, which provides free local public transportation to eligible employees and all students.

How much does it cost to run a large and complex system like this?

We spend about $20 million a year to run the system, but revenue is not keeping up with expenses. The economic model in parking and transportation has been and is broken. Every institution across America runs its parking operation in an auxiliary fashion - you're not making money with it, but you’re trying to have your revenue meet your expenses. We've not been doing that, so it's been running at a significant deficit. During the economic downturn, there were no parking rate increases for three years, but expenses continued to rise. That is not the sole contributor for the deficit, but it is a contributing factor. The other is that the level of maintenance that is required with our parking facilities would have required larger rate increases over the last eight to 10 years. We've underpriced parking for a decade or more, and that has caught up with us.

How does this affect parking rates?

Nobody likes to hear that parking rates will go up, but it's a necessity. This year, we'll see a standard rate increase across all permit types, but as we look out over the next two to five years, we will look to simplify the rate structure and maintain competitive pricing. We're going through a process of quantifying that now. We have 72 zones and 16 different rates, and we’re looking at possibly going to six different rates over the next several years. There are now inequities where some closer-in parking lots cost less than remote parking. We have some customers who are able to park right next to their offices and pay $80 a year, and we have others parking farther out for $600 a year. What we're considering is streamlining the structure into core and non-core parking. Core parking could cost $600 to $1,000 a year, and non-core parking may be lower than $600. The remote parking option may be $300 a year.

What investments are needed to infrastructure, technology and other services in the coming years?

We must address the deferred maintenance in our seven garages and 200 surface lots, and we’ll need funding to support that, which will cost millions of dollars. We have an outline of how that can be addressed over the next several years. Just like any other building that needs to be renovated from time to time, a garage structure has the same needs.  The second major expense is an integrated information system that allows us to use our parking system in an efficient way. Having contemporary parking management technology will allow us to determine how our spaces are used hour by hour so we can optimize our parking spaces. We also want to move away from using swipe technology at our parking lots and gates and instead use radio frequency identification tags, called RFIDs. These would be placed in windshields to allow for easier movement in and out.

Duke's transit fleet received considerable upgrades in recent years. Is there anything else in store?

Our transportation situation right now is on a solid foundation. Since 2011, we updated our transit fleet with two new hybrid-electric buses and eight new diesel buses. But as part of our transit operations, we have to consistently look at our bus routes. We pick up and drop off very close to the proximity of where passengers are going. We operate nine routes and have more than 3 million passengers board annually. We have to ask ourselves, can we be more streamlined in our bus stops? That has huge dollar implications for us.

How can Duke community members partner to keep costs down?

Every person will want to take a look at the possibilities of utilizing alternative transportation, which gets down to behavioral changes. There is a broader sustainability issue attached to this as well. Transportation is a significant part of our sustainability goals. We've made lots of progress in the sustainability space over the last five years, but one of the areas where we have not had as much progress is reducing single-occupant vehicles on campus. We'll continue to encourage our alternative transportation options from carpooling and vanpooling to riding local bus lines with the free GoPass, and we hope the community will see these as valuable alternatives.