As representatives of their communities, universities share an important responsibility in providing multimodal forms of transportation that are both safe and sustainable.
As a result of managing a variety of campus mobility options, including biking and shuttles, as well as parking, university officials have to deal with many challenges on a day-to-day basis, the most important of which perhaps being convincing students, staff and faculty to leave their personal vehicles behind.
ShuttleOps spoke to Barbara Morck, director, University of New Mexico (UNM) parking & transportation services; Ryan Greene, sr. manager, parking and transportation, at Milledgeville, Ga.’s Georgia College; and Christopher H. Austin, director, parking & transportation services, of the University at Buffalo (N.Y.) about those issues, as well as what options they are exploring down the road.
What new initiatives have you recently added that have proven to be successful?
Greene: Recently, we’ve installed LCD messaging screens at the majority of our shuttle stops to show real-time tracking and arrival predictions of our fixed-shuttle routes. We have partnered with Nextbus to provide this service and it has proved quite successful.
We’ve also created a custom, cloud-based system, Caspio that handles all charter requests, invoicing, scheduling and reporting. The department has seen a massive increase in the number of shuttle and motorpool requests with this system, as we service all of our athletic away games and many student organizations and departments on campus. Lastly, our shuttle drivers were recently certified in idle-free and eco-driving and received the Certificate for Sustainable Transportation through the University of Vermont.
Austin: Our most recent success is with our bikeshare program, which is called Bike Share at UB. We currently have 40 bicycles from Social Bicycles Inc., which requires a $15-per-year membership. We did the initial beta test in 2014 and followed up with a full rollout in 2015, so this is our second full year and the program has been a great success. Obviously, the driving force behind it is to provide a transit alternative to the single-occupant vehicle. It also provides some technology for users. Social bicycles are GPS-enabled and there’s an app that allows users to check the bike in and out. The program is aimed at providing a viable commuting option for making short trips around our campuses.
Morck: We really have no ‘new’ initiatives, but approximately 50% of our shuttle buses use CNG fuel, which this year has been a large savings. We have a free bus sticker program that allows UNM students, faculty and staff to ride public transit buses [ABQ RIDE] for free. The university IT department, in collaboration with ABQ RIDE, created a “Where’s My Bus?” smartphone app that allows users to see where the UNM buses and ABQ RIDE buses are in real time. And, we have a bike locker program, where folks can place their bicycle inside a container to protect it from inclement weather or damage; locker rental is $48 per year.
What is your biggest daily challenge on campus?
Morck: It is more on the parking side — a lack of available parking on the main campus. This in turn affects our transportation system, as it pushes customers to outer lots, which increases the need for our shuttle services. [To address this challenge, we are] working with other UNM departments and potentially outside sources in the hopes of collaborating on construction of additional parking structures. We are also working with UNM Real Estate to locate possible sites for additional park-and-ride lots and continuing to support and market alternative forms of transportation.
Austin: Here in Buffalo, it’s a challenge to get people out of their cars, due to the region being commute-friendly (you can get anywhere in 20 minutes). The Buffalo-Niagara region is not as congested with traffic as in many other cities around the country. With 72% of our students being commuters, we work hard every day to share with our campus the benefits transit alternatives provide to campus and community. We encourage our students, staff and faculty to leave their cars at home and use the transit systems in place. For those who do commute daily by car, we highlight our park-and-ride lots where spaces are always available, and shuttles depart every seven to nine minutes.
Greene: Maintenance is always a challenge for an active fleet. I believe that we have a solid maintenance program in place, but balancing the requirement to satisfy route and charter obligations while keeping enough buses functional is a challenge.
Have you explored other services on campus, such as ridesharing, bikesharing, or app-based rider services like Uber and Lyft?
Greene: We have looked into adding a bikeshare for our campus and we continue to search for funding options to bring on this alternative transportation option. We encourage carpooling, but we do not have a formal program in place. Our campus is a heavy user of golf carts for employees, so that also cuts down on vehicle emissions.
Austin: Outside of New York City, Uber isn’t in New York State yet, but once it opens up here we will be open to exploring it as an opportunity. There is a student group here that is looking to explore more of a crowdshare approach to ridesharing, where you can connect with people and share the ride. I find that very interesting and think it can be transformational for commutes to campus, and everywhere, in general. When that opens up it will be something we’ll have to definitely do our due diligence on and explore.
Morck: The City of Albuquerque has engaged in a bikeshare program and is seeking our assistance (and finances) in placing a “share” spot on campus. We are also looking at Uber and various rideshare programs to see if they would also be a benefit to the UNM community.
What is your biggest challenge in getting students out of their cars and using other transportation options and how do you market those services?
Morck: The university is primarily a commuter campus, and the majority of students are non-traditional (average age is 24 years), which means many of them work and/or have families in addition to taking classes. This translates to them having a need to have access to transportation that can get them to/from work and/or home or their children’s schools in an efficient and timely manner: public transit is not always a feasible or reasonable solution for them. [As for marketing], we remind folks about the bus sticker program, the bike paths and trails that connect UNM to the rest of Albuquerque; the health benefits of walking; possibilities and savings that can be found in carpooling; and the sustainability efforts of the UNM community and the ‘what’s in it for them’ aspects of being mindful of the environment.
Greene: Students and employees don’t like parking in remote lots and using our robust shuttle system as an alternative transportation option. We continue to market these remote lots for guaranteed parking and shuttle service every eight minutes, but we have fallen short. We market through traditional methods such as social media, email, the Intranet, giveaways and word of mouth.
Austin: As I mentioned, the ease of commute is our biggest issue. Our message then is the distinct benefits for each transportation option. With carsharing, for example, we tout the fact that one car in the program takes 10 to 15 personal vehicles off the road and that there’s a real financial savings in not having to pay for the maintenance, gas and insurance costs associated with owning a vehicle. From a bikeshare perspective, it’s the healthy alternative. We have a plethora of bikes available at numerous areas throughout our campuses, and at $15 per year, it’s very cost effective.
We also speak to each incoming class of freshman and their parents to share with them the array of services we provide and their various benefits. It’s helpful to get in their ears right up front. And when you start talking about cost savings and safety to the parents of the students, it’s a message that really resonates.