The Carrot and the Stick


“Why would you give people free parking when you don’t have the space?” asks Stanford University’s Transportation Planner, Carolyn Helmke. She and the Land and Buildings Operations department have found sustainable ways to reduce congestion and fund university TDM programs.



In the United States, there is an innate sense of denial that exists around the costs of car ownership and car usership, parking lots and parking, and the 30,000 people that are killed every year because of the our dependence on cars and acceptance of them. There is not only a financial cost imposed by the use of cars, but also a social cost.


The General Use Permit

Stanford University, located in Santa Clara, follows the conditions of the county’s General Use Permit. The goal is to minimize congestion and car usage – “no new net trips.” To accomplish this, the university charges for parking.


Charging for Parking: A Two-Part System

In order to give drivers alternative transportation options, the university needs funding. Stanford funds its TDM programs with the money from parking charges. This is a positive and sustainable way to get people out of cars.

  1. Parking fees incentivize people not to drive. The higher parking prices get, fewer and fewer people will drive to work.
  2. Offer different levels of parking. For example: a driver has the option to pay more and park across the street from the office, or to pay less a park a few blocks away.


Commute Club

Students who choose not to obtain a Stanford parking permit are rewarded with up to $300 a year in Clean Air Cash or Carpool Credit. This incentivizes finding alternative transportation options.


“The Carrot and the Stick” approach has proven successful at Stanford University. As Carolyn recognizes, we live in an era in which people want everything for free. The inconvenience of higher parking charges is rewarded with funding for university TDM programs, lower drive alone rates, and rising Commute Club membership.


It is clear that people respond to incentives, such as the cost of driving/parking into their commute decisions. Here at RideAmigos, we work with all of our university customers to make sure that you are cognizant of all the travel options available to you so that your transportation demand management will line up directly with your personal and organizational objectives.




1 reply
  1. Ruby on behalf of Carolyn Helmke
    Ruby on behalf of Carolyn Helmke says:

    1. Meredith Williams, Oregon State University: How is Stanford’s commute cash funded?

    ANSWER: From Parking fees

    2. Erik Olsen, Town of Blacksburg: What do you suggest for small, rural areas to survive with the new push for performance-based funding/support? Cute, “success stories” only go so far.

    ANSWER: Great question, but it’s hard for me to answer since I don’t have direct experience with working in a small, rural area

    3. Erik Olsen, Town of Blacksburg: And the detail of cost of Transit – HUGE to buy vehicles, maintain and pay Operators, etc.

    ANSWER: Buying busses and paying for operations is very expensive, agreed. I apologize that I do not have exact costs to share.

    4. Erik Olsen, Town of Blacksburg: What would you say to a university administration that says they cannot implement a no car rule for freshman because it will reduce applications?

    ANSWER: Again, I’m not very familiar with working in a small, rural community. I think that you might network with other schools that are similarly located to see if they have had any success.

    5. Aaron Baum, South Bay Cities Council of Government: Can you speak to the Stanford experience with event management and your TDM program…i.e. football games, etc.?

    ANSWER: We have strong working relationships with the departments that produce events, such as Athletics. For example, we have very high attendence at the “Big Game” which is our rivalry football game between Stanford and the University of California-Berkeley (Cal). To decrease the SOVs, we work with our counterparts at Cal, Caltrain, the Silicon Valley Bike Coalition and local bus operators.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *