Back when it was founded in 1890, it's unlikely that the University of Oklahoma's staff spent much time discussing the issue of campus parking (although many early records were destroyed in a fire, so we may never know for sure!). Today, however, with over 31,000 students, a faculty of around 3,000, and swarms of visitors for special events, the University's parking scenario is obviously a complex one.
Like many universities, OU has a "hunting" permit system, which means one permit is valid for many lots. While that can simplify parking—basically having a one-size-fits-all permit—the name implies exactly what it means: when one lot is full, students drive around hunting for available parking spots. "At the suggestion of OU's Student Government Association (SGA), we began counting parking spaces and tweeting our results in the fall of 2011," said Doug Myers, OU's Director of Parking and Transportation Services. "When SGA asks for something, you know it's important."
The University had its parking attendants begin counting spaces in 2011, but quickly realized it needed to hitch itself to a partner who could help tackle the counting problem—sooner rather than later.
With a campus that covers 4,190 acres, home to parking lots and garages located across campus, one can imagine the almost herculean effort it would take to physically monitor parking availability and tweet out the ever-changing results.
Tech-savvy college students deserved a better system that would allow them to save time scouring campus for a parking spot. The parking managers at OU had more concerns in mind as well—managing parking for sporting events, reducing campus traffic and congestion, and delivering better customer service.
The OU parking staff was ready to implement some truly innovative solutions to tracking and communicating their parking availability. That's where T2 and AutoCount came in. "We always go to T2 first as our parking technology partner," said Kris Glenn, OU's Vision Architect, Digital Innovation/Smarter Parking. "Once we realized they had a solution that fit our needs, we didn't look anywhere else."
The answer was two-fold. First, T2 implemented AutoCount, which provides real-time vehicle count information that is accurate, automated, and available. Utilizing in-ground loops and the T2 Vehicle Counter, AutoCount sends vehicle entry/exit information directly into the T2 Flex parking management database. This information is displayed on exterior signage so parkers know immediately if a facility has availability.
Utilizing API/web services, the data can also be pushed from the Flex database to websites and mobile apps. In order to fully realize AutoCount's potential, OU's second solution was to implement an app called OU Innovate to make this information even more readily available. "AutoCount is the backbone of OU Innovate," Glenn stated, "providing real-time data to parkers looking for open spaces."
The University realizes other benefits with OU Innovate. The program also provides students with digital access to the SafeRide program, as well as rewards for using the app—what college student doesn't want to earn free Chick-fil-A sandwiches!
OU currently has four lots powered by AutoCount, as well as nine lots using the PARCS counting sensors. "We're looking to expand to one more AutoCount lot now and even more in the future," said Glenn.
When asked if the University has experienced the benefits that AutoCount can provide—(a) balanced student parking and event parking; (b) optimized parking permit sales; (c) reduced campus traffic congestion; and (d) better customer service—the answer is an unequivocal "yes!" according to Glenn. "OU has definitely experienced those benefits, along with counting systems that have been incredibly successful with our students, faculty and staff."
Implementing innovative solutions sooner rather than later is a high priority to those at OU who are responsible for making parking accessible and a positive experience. That's why they've also installed Indect UpSolut in one of their new garages. Indect UpSolut is an overhead parking guidance system with colored lights denoting if spaces are available. OU also still utilizes interns to monitor garages without automated counting, as well as tweeting information about traffic hold-ups, lot closures, etc. from 8-10 AM every day. The University's commitment to turning around what can be a frustrating, time-wasting, fuel-burning experience is commendable.
"AutoCount in the OU Innovate app combined with @OUParking on Twitter provide the kind of customer service today's tech-savvy students demand," said Myers. "AutoCount has made life easier and has put a friendlier face on Parking Services at the University of Oklahoma."