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The Parking Professional: How long have you been at the University of Pittsburgh? What are your core responsibilities as the parking operations manager?
John Collins: I started at the University of Pittsburgh in August 1993. I am responsible for the total day-to-day operations and all parking renovation projects on campus. I am blessed with an excellent staff consisting of customer service representatives, parking enforcement assistants, an office manager and an accountant. Through their efforts, we have created a very efficient operation that is a vital part of the university community. Pitt is currently going through many major renovations that all touch parking in one way or another, and I am heavily involved with the coordination of all of these projects to insure their success.
TPP: Tell us about the university's parking and transportation operations.
JC: The Parking Services Office is part of the Parking, Transportation & Services Department at Pitt. The division oversees parking, shuttles, transportation/travel management, fleet services, central receiving, surplus property and mailing services. We currently own, operate or lease space in 13 garages and 43 parking lots. There are also eight metered lots with a total of 149 spaces. Over the past eighteen years, we have not expanded our parking operations but have completed several recent renovations of older facilities and the infrastructure necessary to move into the future.
TPP: What's the biggest challenge facing the university's parking and transportation operations?
JC: With a total of only 4,552 spaces for our 30,000+ students/faculty and staff, we have to be as fair and consistent as we can when balancing the limited parking on campus with the needs of our customers.
TPP: How are you working to overcome this challenge?
JC: The University of Pittsburgh has a great relationship with our local Port Authority transit service and has entered into an agreement for all university ID holders to be able to ride the service throughout the entire county without charge at the fare box. This relieves a great deal of parking demand and also permits our students to live in surrounding communities with transportation directly to the university. In addition, Parking Services works with our regional ridesharing partner (Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission's CommuteInfo Program) to provide free carpool and vanpool matching, and the university provides incentives to encourage people to share a ride. Our bicycle amenities are increasing with the addition of more covered bicycle parking.
TPP: Everyone has a unique story about how they really got into parking. What's yours?
JC: When I graduated from college, like so many others, I had no idea what career path I should pursue. I had the opportunity to work for a large parking operations vendor in downtown Pittsburgh, so I decided to accept their offer. I figured I could work nights and interview for a real job during the days. Over the years, I found that it was a very interesting niche of work and I really enjoyed the people and problem solving that came along with the day to day activities. Here I am 23 years later, still learning and still enjoying it.
TPP: The 2011 IPI Conference & Expo is coming to Pittsburgh, what would you recommend about the city to attendees?
JC: I would ask that anyone who hasn't yet been to Pittsburgh to refrain from entertaining any preconceived ideas about the city. It is not the smoky, steel town it used to be, although most of the world still thinks it is. There is a great small-town atmosphere with a lot of character. People will go out of their way to help you and make your time here fun and rewarding. I would suggest making a trip up to Mount Washington either by car or ride one of our great inclines to one of the restaurants or overlooks to get a great view of the city and the magnificent rivers. Then take the incline down and spend time at Station Square - an old train station converted to retail shops and restaurants. Venture in to the "strip district," where the many retail produce and ethnic food stores, restaurants and coffee shops showcase Pittsburgh's evolution. Or venture to the "South Side". The South Side, along Carson Street, houses again, many ethnic restaurants and nightlife which give a great sense of what we have to offer. The newest area - developed on the site of one of our many old Steel Mills - is the South Side Works, which offers a wide selection of newer shops and dining. In addition, Pittsburgh offers a wide array of culture as well from our downtown cultural district with theaters and cabarets, to the world renowned Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History in Oakland, Andy Warhol Museum and Carnegie Science Center on the North Side nestled among our sports venues and new Rivers Casino. So, no matter what you enjoy doing, Pittsburgh has it! I have lived here all my life and am proud to be a true Pittsburgher…. I would not change a thing. I look forward to the opportunity to show off our city to the IPI conference attendees!