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Between the lines: the first UK HE car parking ranking

Paul Greatrix (with data support from David Kernohan) unveils the UK's first statistically rigorous ranking of UK HE institutions by how easy it is to park at them.
This article is more than 6 years old

Paul Greatrix is Registrar at The University of Nottingham, author and creator of Registrarism and a Contributing Editor of Wonkhe.

They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot. Well, some universities are certainly pleasant environments but perhaps not paradisaical. And many of them do have parking lots. Or car parks as we like to say in our quaint way.

Clark Kerr, former chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley, beyond being remembered for his extraordinary work in developing higher ed in that state, is renowned for two major observations about parking. His first, much cited and frequently modified, was that as Chancellor he found

the three major administrative problems on a campus are sex for the students, athletics for the alumni, and parking for the faculty.

Another highly accurate comment was his pithy summary of the essence of a university, which he suggested consists of

a series of individual faculty entrepreneurs held together by a common grievance over car parking.

Disappointingly though he had little to say on the need for car parking rankings of universities.

Demand-based parking

Inside Higher Ed a few years back offered a helpful commentary on university car parking issues in which it noted that parking reformers in the US were looking to make major changes to traditional approaches to car parking including charging people more for rockstar parking spots. “Demand-based parking” means that the best spots near the centre of campus and high-traffic buildings would cost the most and spaces at the edge of campus would cost less.

Some UK universities have undoubtedly adopted similar approaches with other features being evident too including paying more for guaranteed spaces and less for a ‘license to hunt’ for a space. Others have introduced differential parking charges based on engine size and emissions ratings. Still more have sought to reduce spaces and promote cycling and public transport. Nottingham is still the only city in the UK which has introduced a Workplace Parking Levy which means that the universities pay the City Council a fee for every car parking space.

Again though we have a chronic lack of parking ranking information about US or UK universities. Until now that is. Thanks to the wonderful people at HESA, who have recently published a set of estates related data about UK HE, Wonkhe is now able to present a breakthrough league table, the very first car parking ranking for the sector. It’s a masterpiece of sophistication and sheer data manipulation cleverness if we say so ourselves and it knocks all of those other smart alec rankings, from the silly Spiked thing to the one about astronauts, very much into a cocked hat.

Methodology corner

“Hi everyone – DK here – you might remember me from such posts as “Here’s some data”, “Look at all this data”, and “I’ve got some data to show you”. The HESA Estates data release from earlier this month is a veritable trove of insight on campus parking, offering both information on the number of spaces available and the proportion of each of the staff and student body that commute in various ways. Because the data set also offers staff and student FTE figures for the year in question (2016/17) it was easy enough to convert this information into a proxy of parking demand by vehicle – using a value of 1 for sole drivers and – guessing at a modal value – 0.5 for car-sharers. Comparing this with the number of available spaces gives us an ease of parking value – 100% means that there is one space per imputed vehicle, more than this means there are spaces to spare, and less means you’ll be struggling to park.

However – not all institutions provided these splits, so in those cases I used regional figures from the most recent National Transport Survey (and devolved variants). This is a decent proxy, but is not sensitive to the unique setting of each campus, so I’ve added a column flagging where this substitution has been made. Institutions that have not even provided a value for the number of parking spaces they have are not featured in this table.

You can search to highlight the institution you are interested in, or use the filter to create regional or mission group tables. Note that each sub-table is ranked independently – rankings from the main table are not preserved.”

That ranking in full

There is much to get excited about in here, not just about which university has the most spaces and which is best able to meet the needs of staff and students (for car parking, not the other things Clark Kerr suggested) and how early do staff at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and Guildhall School of Music and Drama have to get up to secure one of their two (2!) car parking spaces. There is much, much more to chew on.

And here’s the table in all its glory with Portsmouth proudly occupying the top slot. Which university is going to pave its paradise in the coming year and put up a parking lot to guarantee them the top slot? Get planning all you Estates Directors…

24 responses to “Between the lines: the first UK HE car parking ranking

  1. Surely Kings and UCL are the winners? On their HESA data they have no car parking at all.

    Of those who have both car and bike spaces, special mention needs to go to Guildhall who might only have 2 car parking spaces, but as they have 147 bike spaces their 1:73 ratio is the clear sector winner. Sadly, Bolton get to be last with 1:0.4 (526 car parking spaces, 24 bike spaces)

  2. Very disappointed at this ‘tarmacism’ against my small specialist HEI! We have lovely car parks, surrounded by beautiful buildings and accessed in once are by an iconic tee lined drive. Surely the Royal Agricultural University is Queen of car parking!

  3. Hugely pleased that the Open University features in this league table AND is in the top 10. Could OfS be persuaded to develop a Gross Parking Quotient for the TEF?

  4. Hi Mike – it’s an optional field on the data return, so they’ve actually not submitted the data rather than divested their car parks.

    There’s enough data to do a bike parking one and I’m sure eventually we’ll get to that. The real purpose of this article is to introduce people to the delights of the HESA Estates Data.

  5. The table must have been published upside down! Surely we should be discouraging car use not rewarding its promotion.

    Se we would be 56th not 86th 😉 Just off to block some more spaces to “game” the league table

  6. No amount of car parking on campus will be enough as we hit the Open Day season. Parents across the nation, accompanied by embarrassed would-be undergrads, are bracing themselves for doing battle for “that spot they can see in the middle there” or heading for the overflow where they will still be found hours later looking for their motor.

  7. Can we get these league tables annually? I fear beautiful UoB may have dropped down given the closure of so many car parks in 2017-18. Yes we encourage green commuting but sometime you have stuff to carry or a long distance to travel, and given the last few spaces disappear each day at around 8am its difficult for those who need flexible working for various reasons. Tempting to add in a pop-up doing BP monitoring to assess the stress levels of those manically driving around trying to find a space before they lecture at 9am! Those at institutions lower down the list, better get a health check #commuterstress

  8. I’m not sure the quality of car parking can be judged exclusively on metrics alone. Surely every university should submit a 10 page document on what they’ve done to enhance the parking experience, and a panel should make a rounded judgement?

  9. @David I feel like we should include a range of other metrics that have nothing whatsoever to do with parking, and then condense the ranking in to three artificial levels based on performance against a benchmark. Then we can change the methodology each year, just for lols.

  10. I knew there would be a massive response to this. I do feel there have been some oversights however. For example, there seems to be no quality control at all, so lighting and safety are not taken into account. I feel the survey might also have included a qualitiative assessment of the provision for staff and students. Notoriously, one Midlands university has just tarmacked and spaced the student carpark while leaving staff to negotiate untamed and cratered terrain you wouldn’t take a Land Rover on. My cheers go to the University of Gloucester, Cheltenham Campus which has ample parking situated in glorious parkland adjacent to a lake. Plus there were no barriers.

  11. @Liz – alas, we could only use the provided HESA data, which makes no comment on the quality of parking spaces (or indeed, their distance from where people actually want to get to).

  12. That we have so many parking spaces at Kingston might come as a surprise to those staff trying to park, (fortunately not me as i am a public transport person)

  13. And actually, how on earth does the ICR have more parking spaces than researchers ? Unless there is some fantastically expensive and large public car park nearby.

  14. Hi Nick – we used imputed parking demand data, largely at an institutional level, to remove any “London effect”. The data is self-reported to HESA as a part of their Estates collection.

  15. No mention of Birkbeck! Our frontage is pedestrianized and has amazing public transport.

  16. Having had the task of managing a London campus car park in the past, I can only relate to the sheer joy I felt when the car parks were sold off and staff encouraged to use public transport. From that day weeks of work were saved each year and my mental health improved greatly. I could write a book on the reasons why staff ‘needed’ a car parking space, stated on the annual car space application forms….!

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