Trading in the Car

More colleges provide alternative transportation options -- and ask students to leave the wheels at home.
August 9, 2006

Upon being accepted at the University of Hawaii-Manoa for the fall semester, the first question out of the mouth of one new student from Washington State was, “What is the best car-shipping service to get my car over here?”

“We tried to tell her that she wouldn’t need one,” reflects Jim Manke, a spokesman for the university who says that most students live within a few miles of campus, “but she wasn’t having it.” She’ll soon participate in a lottery for one of 3,500 parking spaces on a campus that enrolls over 20,000 individuals. If she can’t get a space, she’ll become one of the thousands of students who troll local neighborhoods in search of the ever-elusive nearby spot.

Although the American affinity for cars runs deep, several colleges are trying to de-emphasize what some call a “one car, one student” mentality -- promoting carpooling, partnering with car-sharing services, and developing more useful bike paths. "Green" beliefs, parking shortages, and traffic complaints appear to be the driving forces. 

“There are many ways to get around all sorts of transportation-related issues,” says Diane Brown, a spokeswoman for the University of Michigan. Her institution, which has long discouraged students from bringing cars to campus, allows only juniors and seniors to purchase campus parking permits.

Brown says it’s crucial that colleges offer alternative transportation options to students. At Michigan, efforts in recent years have included an arrangement with the Ann Arbor bus system to provide free service to anyone with a valid campus ID. Officials have also worked with city planners to make sure the campus and the city at large is accessible to students who wish to ride bicycles.   

Manke, too, says that his institution is working to make bikes a realistic option. A long-term plan has the Manoa campus building a series of paths around campus that will include covered parking, security guards and showers. Upon requests from some students, residential space that’s set to open in 2008 will no longer have a volleyball and basketball court as the original plans called for. Instead, students have requested more space to store their bikes.

“We really want to cut down on the number of cars coming to campus,” says Manke. “There’s this lifestyle mindset that says, ‘I need a car,’ but that’s really often not true.”

For students who believe they need cars for work purposes, Manke says the university is focused on providing free shuttle services to more locations. He also says that the university encourages carpooling among students who may work at the same locations.

At the University of Maryland at College Park, campus officials have found that a new partnership with the car-sharing company Flexcar has helped ease some traffic and transportation complications for both students and staff. The campus is one of several – including the University of Portland, Emory University and three University of California campuses – that are participating in the company’s new “ Flexcar for Undergrads” program. Zipcar, another car-sharing company  offers a program that several colleges and universities also use.

The Flexcar program expands car-sharing services to students under age 21, which insurance companies have traditionally viewed as the highest risk drivers. Students are able reserve a Flexcar online or by phone, and then drive to complete their errands. When they return the car, they’re charged an hourly rate that covers gas, insurance and mileage.

The campus currently has four Flexcars for students and staff with plans of getting one more by the beginning of the school year.

“I think this is a way for us to show students that there are options available for them to use if they don’t have a car,” says J. David Allen, director of transportation services at the University of Maryland. He hopes that the program promotes more environmental consciousness, since many people can share one car over the course of a day. 

Allen says that some students may find that the Flexcar program to be more cost-effective for their driving needs, especially during this time of rising gas prices.

But Brown cautions that no one should think that gas costs will automatically alleviate any car crunches. “The ones who want to bring their cars to campus aren’t usually the ones having to pinch their pennies,” she says.


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