What to Consider When Planning Campus Transportation

Posted on March 30, 2015 by Alex Roman, Managing Editor

Western Illinois University
Western Illinois University

This story appears in METRO's BusOps supplement. To view the digital edition of the full issue, click here.

With college and university populations continuing to swell, space often becomes constrained, forcing many to choose between building more parking lots or more buildings. When the decision is made to expand its facilities over adding parking, many colleges and universities are left with finding ways to transport students from the lots, as well as from surrounding housing, satellite campuses and more, to their classes.

BusOps spoke with consultant Bob Bourne of Bourne Transit Consulting LLC about some things colleges and universities should consider when building routes, as well as some of the issues they may experience when embarking on the process of creating a transportation network on campus.

Planning the System

Bourne explains there are several issues to consider when planning routes for campus systems:

1) What are you trying to accomplish?
The first step is clearly the biggest and that is addressing where you want to go.

“Some systems just want circulation to and from housing and parking lots to the classrooms,” Bourne explained. “If it’s a really big university, some want circulation in between campuses and other offsite, university-owned buildings.”

Bourne added that many colleges and universities may also want circulation off campus in high residential density not owned by the school, for example, to reduce shorter trips people may be taking in their personal vehicles.

2) Parking Demand
With parking lots often a pretty sizable distance from the actual classrooms, it’s important for colleges and universities to provide transportation to and from their parking lots, Bourne explained. In conjunction, if a school is aiming to reduce the amount of vehicles coming to campus, it is also critical to provide transportation options to and from student housing facilities, and again, high density residential areas surrounding the campus, as well.

3) Who will run it?
Does the city, or whoever provides public transportation services in the area, contract with the university or is the university contracting with the city to provide service? If they both have their own individual systems, do they have a joint management agreement with separate policy boards?

“Setting up the route system is one part of the equation, but who will run it is the other important part,” Bourne said.

4) What are the fares going to be?
Along with who is going to run the system, the last part is who is going to pay for it?

As Bourne explained, if they are university-owned buses, chances are students will ride for free. However, if they are setting up a partnership with the city or local transportation agency, an agreement must be struck as to who will be paying the fares and how. Will the students ride for free and pay a fee when they register, or will they ride for a reduced fare?

Things to Consider
One possible pitfall colleges and universities may want to look out for when planning routes, is underestimating demand and planning poor service levels, according to Bourne.

“A weakly designed system might have buses running from a parking lot to campus every 20 to 30 minutes, but it may take 10 to 15 minutes to make the same trip on foot,” he said. “In that case, it probably makes more sense to just walk than to take the bus, which really defeats the purpose.”

Another pitfall Bourne often sees is those planning the system might not spend time examining student travel data.

“[What you can do is] take the student population and the number of student rides per year and that gives you the number of rides per capita,” said Bourne. “Healthy systems might have 170 to 180 rides per capita, per year. Other schools might see the numbers are like 20 rides per capita. If you have a school of 10,000 students and you are providing 200,000 rides a year, that’s an indicator you are not meeting demand.”

In short, without examining that data, school officials may not be aware how much frequency they may need. Additional data on travel patterns of students will help determine demand for on-campus and off-campus trips. Social media and campuswide surveys are also effective ways to get student input on their travel patterns.  

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