Assistant Director - Sustainability
University of Maryland Dept. of Transportation Services
Universities often struggle to meet demand for parking, leaving administrators to find creative ways to reduce the number of car trips to campus. Anna McLaughlin, assistant director of sustainability at the University of Maryland’s Department of Transportation Services, joined us to discuss the school’s recent launch of a parking cash-out pilot program.
The University of Maryland is located about four miles northeast of Washington DC, and has a community of nearly 50,000 people, including 39,000 students and 10,000 faculty and staff members. This large community must share a limited number of parking spaces, and recent campus construction has resulted in the loss of more than 3,000 spots.
UM’s parking cash-out program is a part of a larger initiative, known as UMD Smart Commute. The overall objective of UMD Smart Commute is to reduce the number of single-occupancy vehicle trips to and from campus. Parking cash-out offers were part of an incentive-based strategy designed to give commuters added motivation to use sustainable transportation alternatives.
McLaughlin’s math favors parking cash-outs. She calculated that operating a parking cash-out program would save the school $21 million over a 20-year period when compared against the cost of building a new parking structure, resulting in a net annual savings of more than $1 million per year.
Getting commuters to say “yes” to the program is a simple matter of offering enough financial incentive for them to agree to take part. McLaughlin initially launched UM’s parking cash-out initiative as a pilot program with 100 participants, each of whom were offered a $500 payout in addition to a local bikeshare membership. Commuters were required to log their trips to campus on the RideAmigos platform, allowing McLaughlin and her team to generate important data-driven insights into their transportation choices.
The University of Maryland is looking to transition the project from a pilot program to a full-scale rollout in the summer of 2018. It will certainly prove to be an interesting case study in the power of financial incentive to drive commuter behavior change.