Stanford’s parking permit system is going virtual.

08/10/2010 Parking lot near Lake Lagunita, with "C" permit sign.

A new parking permit system coming to the Stanford campus will eliminate the need for physical permits. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

Beginning this summer, physical campus parking permits – both the annual adhesive kind and the daily “scratcher” kind – will begin to disappear. A new system will allow employees, students and campus residents to purchase permits from a computer or smartphone, and their license plate will become their parking permit.

Most people at Stanford won’t see the change until they renew their annual parking permits later this summer, before current permits expire Aug. 31. But anyone buying new permits earlier in the summer will see the change beginning June 25, when the new system will begin a phase-in period.

“We believe this system will provide a better, more flexible, easier-to-use experience for the Stanford community,” said Brian Shaw, executive director of Parking & Transportation Services. “Just as airline tickets and bridge tolls have evolved to electronic systems, this new system will use secure technology to manage the entire parking permit process.”

The same online system will be used by Stanford employees to manage their memberships in the Commute Club, if they participate. About half of Stanford employees use alternatives to driving alone to work each day, such as bicycling, transit and carpooling. The university provides a range of incentives through the Commute Club for those who choose not to purchase long-term parking permits.

A new website produced by Parking & Transportation Services provides more information about the change to the new system, along with answers to questions.

Several factors are contributing to the shift to a virtual system, Shaw said. The campus parking database needs to be upgraded, for one. In addition, the Parking & Transportation Services offices, currently located on Bonair Siding on the east side of campus, will move to the new Redwood City campus when it opens. That means in-person transactions, such as purchases of daily parking permits, will need to be replaced by online transactions, supported by telephone- and email-based customer service.

Most important, Shaw said, moving to an electronic system brings a range of advantages for campus users. The benefits include:

  • Increased speed and convenience: Commuters and residents will be able to purchase parking permits anywhere, at any time, from a variety of devices. Permits will be valid immediately, so those parking on campus will not need to make a trip to the parking office or wait for a permit to arrive in the mail.
  • Greater flexibility: Users of the system will be able to register multiple vehicles on the same parking permit without having to physically transfer a permit between vehicles. Rental and loaner cars also can be added to the system on the day they are being used, with the permit activated in real time.
  • Improved sustainability and no lost permits: No longer will tens of thousands of physical permits be printed and distributed each year. In addition, users will not have to worry about paying to replace a lost or stolen permit.
  • Automatic renewals: Stanford affiliates will be able to have parking permits renew for multiple years, if they choose, and Commute Club memberships will continue until members want to cancel or become ineligible.

In the future, Shaw said, the electronic system also could be used to offer new commute incentive programs and real-time parking availability notifications for campus garages.

How the system will work

Here’s how the system will work: Stanford affiliates who park on campus will buy a permit online and enter a license plate – or more than one, if they switch cars from time to time. The user will enter the time period for the permit to be valid, whether for a day, week, month or year(s). No physical permit will be mailed or displayed on the car.

Parking enforcement will change, too. Today, parking enforcement officers monitor campus parking lots, largely on foot, to check the physical permits displayed on windshields and hanging from rearview mirrors. Under the new system, officers will scan the license plates of cars parked in Stanford-enforced lots, and the system will identify any vehicles that do not have a proper permit. Parking citations will be placed on windshields, as they are now.

“If you normally bicycle to work but need to drive on a given day, you’ll be able to buy a daily permit on your phone or computer, rather than coming to our office or waiting for it to arrive in the mail,” Shaw said. “If you drive different cars to campus at different times, instead of physically switching a parking pass between them, the system will automatically recognize that you’ve parked one of the cars you registered with P&TS.”

The change to the virtual system also applies to students living on campus. Permits will continue to be specific to different zones of the campus based on residence locations.

Members of the general public who visit the campus will continue to use existing systems to pay for parking in visitor lots. Also, Stanford commuters who currently have a supply of physical daily “scratcher” permits will be able to continue using them until they expire, even if the expiration date is after Aug. 31.

Privacy, security considerations

Privacy and data security have been important considerations in planning the new system, Shaw emphasized. The system will only collect and store data for parking- and transportation-related purposes, and for a limited time. Parking & Transportation Services has published a privacy policy and a set of data management principles detailing how the data will be used and protected.

Stanford transportation planners investigated similar systems at a number of other universities before deciding on the new system.

“Virtual permits greatly simplified the process for updating, renewing and modifying parking permits across campus,” said Matt Penney, director of Parking & Transportation Services at Baylor University. “Students, faculty and staff appreciated the ability to deal with parking permit issues online, instead of having to make a trip to our office.”

At Stanford, though the Parking & Transportation Services offices ultimately will move to Stanford Redwood City, Shaw said members of the Stanford community should see no reduction in service. All of the office’s products will be available online, and support will be available in English and Spanish both over the telephone and by email, he said.

Additional information is available on the website or can be obtained by emailing or calling (650) 723-9362.