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Sharing Excellence in Parking & Mobility Management

Building an Effective Parking Program: Step 1, a Clear Mission & Vision

By Dennis Burns, CAPP

(This is Part 1 of a 20 part series presented by the H2H2H Foundation. If you have already read the following introduction in a previous edition of the series, feel free to skip down to Characteristic #1.)

Introducing the 20 Characteristics of Effective Parking Programs

Parking is an essential element of an institution’s infrastructure and, when well-managed, it can contribute greatly to efforts to develop and sustain healthy and vibrant downtowns, universities and medical centers.

Convenient, safe, clean and affordable parking is critical to attracting and retaining patients, staff, retailers, restaurants, office buildings/tenants and all other types of customers and developments.

Based on evaluating numerous parking systems in a variety of environments and of various sizes and complexity, we have identified a set of twenty characteristics, that when combined into an integrated, programmatic approach provides the foundation for a sound and well managed parking system.

These twenty characteristics include:

1. Clear Vision and Mission

2. Parking Philosophy

3. Strong Planning

4. Community Involvement

5. Organization

6. Staff Development

7. Safety, Security and Risk Management

8. Effective Communications

9. Consolidated Parking Programs

10. Strong Financial Planning

11. Creative, Flexible and Accountable Parking Management

12. Operational Efficiency

13. Comprehensive Facilities Maintenance Programs

14. Effective Use of Technology

15. Parking System Marketing and Promotion

16. Positive Customer Service Programs

17. Special Events Parking Programs

18. Effective Enforcement

19. Parking and Transportation Demand Management

20. Awareness of Competitive Environment

A parking system that has addressed all twenty of these characteristics is well on its way to being in a class apart from the majority of parking systems. The ultimate goals are a parking system that provides professional management, understands the role it plays in contributing to the larger objectives of its environment and is responsive to the community that it serves.

The importance of parking as one of the most visible and often controversial elements of an environment’s infrastructure is often underestimated. A well-managed parking system can be a key component in attracting and retaining customers, supporting new programs and developments and is essential to sustaining healthy and vibrant communities of all types.

Characteristic # 1: Clear Vision and Mission

Truly effective parking systems have a clear vision and well-defined mission. The development or periodic reassessment of the parking system vision/mission statements should be undertaken as an open and inclusive process involving a wide range of community stakeholders.

Identifying and obtaining buy-in from these stakeholders is critical to this process. Managers and administrators should first comb through their professional contacts and customer lists to generate profiles of those touched by the system. These might include the obvious, such as area employees and local visitors and the not-so-obvious, such as repair service persons and delivery vehicles.

However, just as importantly, leaders must consider the needs of those who are not being served by the current service. Discover what these unmet needs might be and imagine how the arc of service might be bent to fill these voids. For example, a parking system might assume a role as a transportation hub, interacting with other nodes of the local grid by providing bicycle racks or selling transit passes.

The development of a parking system’s vision and mission statements should have one overriding goal; to see that the parking system’s purpose and direction are tied to and supportive of the larger community’s (or institution’s) strategic development plan.

There are a variety of ways that parking can support the health, vitality and development of environment it serves. Having a professionally managed parking program that presents clean, safe, attractive and well-maintained facilities is perhaps the most visible dimension.

Other attributes include providing an adequate supply of parking overall and ensuring appropriate allocation and management of those resources. The parking system exists to support the businesses that depend on convenient, well-managed parking for their success. Successfully meeting these goals promotes business success, retention and attraction.

The parking system administrator should play a key role in providing educational support to community and institutional leaders about the importance of parking and the role(s) parking can play (and cannot play) in meeting community and institutional objectives. Staying abreast of the latest developments related to parking system technologies can broaden the options available to improve parking system management effectiveness and efficiency.

Common problems for parking systems, such as reserving the most convenient spaces for users such as patients and visitors, promoting turnover of short-term spaces without being perceived as unfriendly or heavy-handed, or providing more convenient customer payment options are good examples. The use of new technologies to support the mission and vision can have a profound impact on the perception of the parking system and how it contributes to achieving the goals of the community it serves.

In successful parking systems, financial responsibilities are well-defined and understood. This is a critical component of the vision/mission, as it directly impacts the perception of whether the parking system is meeting its obligations and expectations.

Part of this important discussion relates to whether the parking system is expected to be subsidized by other revenue sources or cover all operating, maintenance and debt costs with direct parking revenues. Is parking expected to generate surplus revenue? Is it expected to fund other programs? Which of these options is feasible for your institution depends on a number of variables.

A best practice related to having a clearly defined Vision/Mission for your program is the development of a set of parking system “Guiding Principles”. In general, the Guiding Principles should be short and concise, a maximum of one or two typed pages. Some of the elements typically incorporated in such a document include:

Mission Statement/Statement of Purpose – Describes how the parking operation contributes to the success or mission of the larger organization.

Operations/Funding Strategies – Describes how operations are to be funded and also whether the operation is intended to be a self-supporting entity, a profit / revenue center, or a support service sustained through other primary revenue sources.

Interdepartmental Relationships – Defines relationships between various departments, especially other support departments such as Maintenance, Security, Communications, Facilities Management, etc.

Responsibility for Parking Operations – Is parking to be managed in-house? Will it be outsourced? A combination? Are all parking operations to be managed through a centralized operation or can other departments get involved in limited parking operations?

Rate Setting Guidelines – Defining guidelines for reviewing and setting parking rates can be important because it provides a formalized process for review of parking rates. This is generally done in conjunction with the annual budget planning cycle.

Options for Allocating/Procuring Parking – Defining how parking is allocated goes to the heart of the department’s mission because of the prioritization process that is required. How parking is sold and to whom has a direct impact on customer service, operational efficiency, funding, staffing, etc.

Parking Planning – Many parking programs have an active and comprehensive planning function. The parking program should be included in all long-range strategic and transportation planning. Other efforts such as on-going facility utilization review, periodic supply/demand studies, site feasibility studies, the development of parking structure design guidelines, etc. should also be considered.

Procedures for Managing Losses of Parking Supply – Have procedures/guidelines in place for the coordination and replacement of parking spaces lost (both temporary and long-term) due to new development.

Definition and Communication of Parking Rules and Regulations – Having clearly defined parking rules and regulations is essential to any parking operation. How these rules and regulations are communicated can vary widely depending on the customer groups served and the environment. Having an effective communications plan can also keep your customers informed of changes brought on by construction and maintenance projects, implementation of new technologies, rate changes, new policies, etc. Additionally, a good communications plan can act as a marketing and public relations tool for the parking department. Parking departments are often criticized because of misperceptions or a lack of information about the performance and contributions made by the department.

Enforcing and Adjudicating Parking Rules and Regulations – Defining who is responsible for day-to-day parking enforcement and adjudication is an important operational decision. This decision can influence how revenues generated by parking enforcement are used. Other key parking enforcement issues that should be defined include: Who defines parking enforcement policies? Who administers the adjudication process? Who sets the rates for parking fines? Who has authorization for towing, booting or other enforcement practices?

Defining Parking Facility Maintenance Responsibilities – Parking facility maintenance is something that is too often cut from capital budgets. The result is often a larger price tag at a later date and can involve significant operational disruptions. Identification of parking facility maintenance as an important parking management principle should not be overlooked. Maintenance reserves should be set aside out of parking revenues and be considered a basic expense along with funding of parking operations and debt service.

Special Event Parking – If any one area requires a cooperative effort from the larger community, it is providing parking for special events. If parking supplies are tight, even small seminars or departmental functions can have a big impact to parking operations. On large campuses, several departments sponsoring several small “events” can cause big problems. Having a well-defined system for coordination of special events parking, which is strongly supported by the administration, can provide improved service for all patrons.

Budgeting and Planning Cycles – Because of the high costs associated with the development of new parking and the lead-time required for design and construction of new facilities, parking budgets can benefit greatly by the development of extended budgeting and planning cycles. Extended budgeting cycles better illustrates the needs for retaining revenues to cover periodic and long term maintenance, debt service, equipment replacement etc.

Dennis Burns, CAPP is Senior Practice Builder and Regional Vice President at Kimley-Horn and Associates, Inc., a multi-disciplinary engineering and planning firm. Kimley-Horn’s growing parking design and consulting practice integrates parking and transportation planning with its urban planning, aviation, civil and traffic engineering and sustainable energy practices. This post was adapted from an article previously published in magazine or website format. The author retains all second serial and electronic rights. This work has been updated, edited and is distributed by the H2H2H Foundation with the express permission of the author. Contact Dennis Burns at

The H2H2H Foundation is a nonprofit organization committed to “sharing excellence in mobility management”, which includes promoting best practices in the administration of parking and transportation facilities. We also advocate for transportation consumers and advance alternative mobility options, such as car sharing, bicycling, carpools and many others. You can learn more about our efforts and ways you can help us at Questions or comments? Contact us at

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