Electric cars on campus: Together in electric dreams

Parking on campus is set to get a whole lot trickier as sales of electric cars rocket. Majid Khan looks at how rising consumer demand for sustainable transport poses new challenges for estate managers

Estate management teams at universities have always benefited from close cooperation and collaboration with each other and with neighbouring organisations. Such a collaborative spirit is proving vital as universities look to bounce back from the unprecedented impact of a global pandemic.

While the knock-on effect of the ongoing health crisis is clearly at the front of mind, the challenges of another global issue are still lurking in the inbox of all estate and campus managers.

The pursuit of a low-carbon future to address pressing climate change issues was already prompting significant operational adjustments prior to the Covid-19 lockdown, with the exponential growth in electric vehicles (EVs) posing particular challenges. Sales of EVs tripled in 2019 and demand continues to rise for alternatively fuelled vehicles. Such behavioural change is, of course, the way forward and is closely aligned with the evermore ambitious sustainability targets of most universities.

However, it does present new challenges especially in relation to existing campus parking provision for staff (and, in some cases, students) and the need for suitable EV charging points.

electric cars

It can be very difficult to find the right balance when faced with site-specific physical constraints, legacy infrastructure, ongoing campus development, planning restrictions and – for city centre campuses – the influence of neighbouring service centres and public facilities. Developing the most appropriate strategy to ensure fair access to the campus while also delivering the appropriate electric charging infrastructure is not a straightforward exercise.

Indeed, it is the most discussed and hotly debated topic at the regular meetings of the International Parking Community’s higher education group that includes members from universities all over the country.

The continuing growth in the use of electric vehicles has posed quite a dilemma and prompted many difficult questions

Fairness and awareness

Since the government’s introduction of Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) grants, the use of electric and hybrid vehicles has increased dramatically.

Here in Leeds, like many universities, we have moved away from conventional ‘Green Travel Plans’ to a far more holistic and extensive sustainability agenda.

We are keen, therefore, to provide as much support and encouragement as possible for any initiative that will deliver sustainable transport options without compromising accessibility to all areas of the campus.

That is why we took such prompt action a few years ago to install a limited number of charging points within the campus parking areas. Initially, use of the charging points was very limited. However, that is not the case today and the continuing growth in the use of electric vehicles has posed quite a dilemma and prompted many difficult questions.

It is now clear we are not the only university estate management team to be scratching our heads:

  • How does a university fund the ongoing installation of charging points?
  • What needs to be done to increase the rating of the power infrastructure?
  • What type of charging points should be specified, where are the best locations for installing them and how can the potential demand be estimated and tracked?
  • What tariffs should be applied to incentivise the use of electric vehicles while deterring the misuse of a designated space once a vehicle has been charged?
  • How can use of EV charging points be optimised and what is the best way to manage their demand?
  • What data can be obtained during the charging process to help refine parking management policies and ensure the most efficient use of charging points?
  • What is the best way to ensure the fair use of campus-based charging points and to ensure awareness of alternative public charging infrastructure and encourage home-based charging?
  • How can additional waiting bays be created or allocated for charged vehicles so as to free up the charging points for other users when there is already insufficient parking provision to meet the demand?
  • What technologies are available to support such an EV infrastructure and what are the best ways to adjust enforcement measures to take account of the changing composition of parking activities without compromising campus accessibility for staff and visitors?

These are the issues where universities can learn from each other and benefit from the expertise and insight of a progressive industry body.

Certainly, the IPC higher education special interest group has helped many universities find the right balance between need, demand and encouragement in terms of EV facilities, while also maintaining fairness and accessibility for all staff and visitors to the campus.

Team spirit

Indirectly, the forum is building on the inherent spirit of collaboration within the university sector to fuel wider co-operation with local authorities and other primary service centres.

Here in Leeds, for example, we are adjacent to Leeds General Infirmary. The immense pressures on finite parking at, and around, any hospital is a major issue for staff, patients and visitors alike – not
least during the current health crisis, which is why we have made campus parking accessible to NHS staff during this time. Looking ahead, the forthcoming mandate to provide Blue Badge and staff parking at hospitals will undoubtedly create further pressure points.

Like a number of my counterparts in other parts of the country, we have taken steps to offer facilities to ease some of the pressure on hospital parking. Through open discussion with other IPC members, we are learning from each other and inspiring exciting new initiatives and arrangements that were previously not even on the radar. This is very much in keeping with our overriding aim to not only to make our own transition to a low-carbon future, but also to harness our expertise to support others.

Mobilising the combined knowledge, influence and assets of the university community will be key. This is one global challenge where we already have an effective solution – decisive action.

And it’s most definitely collaboration and co-operation that will help to deliver a low-carbon future.

Majid Khan is support services manager at the University of Leeds and chair of the higher education group within the International Parking Community (IPC), an accredited trade association serving the parking industry.

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