Officials aim for improved parking system with merger

For most members of the University community, winter break will provide a welcome respite from parking hassles. However, transportation officials will use those weeks to try to formulate a long-awaited plan that will merge the Medical Center and University parking systems.

The plan, now in its preliminary stages, will consist of a complete overhaul of both systems, placing control in the hands of a single transportation services office. Improvements will include changing lot designations, reallocating existing spaces, unifying access systems, coordinating bus routes and schedules and making Duke parking more predictable. A draft of the proposal is expected in early January, and the anticipated switch will occur by Sept. 1, 2003.

The merger will be a collaborative effort between administrators from the University, Medical Center and Chance Management Advisors, Inc., a Boston-based consulting firm that Duke has used for years and that specializes in the design and implementation of efficient transportation schemes.

The majority of Duke's parking problems stem from day-to-day irregularities, said Barbara Chance, president and CEO of Chance Management.

"We need to have a parking structure that can be proactive in predicting needs, arranging the use of spaces and addressing continued growth," Chance wrote in an e-mail. "As far as possible, people need to have parking be predictable, since it is one of those functions faced by people every day."

That sentiment is in line with the perceptions of administrators, who emphasize that creating uniformity between the systems is the merger's primary goal. Duke's leadership in biomedical research involves continuous interaction between the University and the Medical Center, making parking an extremely relevant issue, Chance said.

These changes will require communication between the two institutions.

"Basically, the current system is confusing to people. There are several subtle differences between parking at the Medical Center and parking on campus, including lot designation and permits, that can make parking complicated," Executive Vice President Tallman Trask said.

In addition to making parking a more constant and reliable process, Chance Management has already identified specific problem areas in the existing scheme.

"Duke is not maximizing the use of its existing spaces," Chance wrote. "This is very important since there is high parking demand, and building additional parking [lots] is very expensive compared with most of the existing parking. The access control system needs to be coordinated across the campus, with the DukeCard in use for all those affiliated with the University."

Trask also emphasized that the merger will likely result in an increase in permit prices, but that the costs, at least for Medical Center employees, would be offset.

"We plan to charge employees on a pre-tax basis after the merger. That way, they pay with money before the government has a chance to tax it," he said. "The nominal rate may go up, but people need to understand that in long run, the parking system must be self-supporting."

Director of Parking and Transportation Services Catherine Reeve said the project was not far enough along for her to be involved, and declined comment.


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