Colleges are known for being centers of progress and innovation. The same can be said of their approaches to reduce drive-alone commutes, increase transit ridership, and encourage walking and biking.
Colleges and universities in Washington, DC; Arlington, VA.; and Prince George’s County, MD. boast robust multimodal transportation plans to ensure students, staff, and faculty can commute to school and work sustainably, conveniently, and affordably.
While critics might think that typical members of the workforce don’t have much in common with people commuting to college campuses, employers and business parks can learn a lot from university transportation plans. Here are three essential components of their plans that can work anywhere.
Parking isn’t free.
Limited parking is an essential tenet of successful university transportation plans. Free parking is costly to both employers and society because it encourages more solo driving, which makes congestion and air and noise pollution worse. In addition, DC area universities want to use their precious real-estate to expand academic, residential, or research facilities, rather than building parking that is expensive to construct and maintain.
So how do they lower parking demand? Universities charge for the limited parking that they offer. Students are often discouraged from bringing a vehicle onto campus, and at The George Washington University, first and second years are prohibited from having a car at all.
Free shuttles connect people to transit.
Almost every university in the DC region has some sort of shuttle system that connects people to nearby public transportation. The Georgetown University Transportation Shuttle (GUTS) system connects the main campus to the Dupont Circle and Rosslyn Metro stops. The Arlington route also connects the Main Campus with multiple points in Arlington, including retail and entertainment venues and student housing.
American University’s “wonk bus,” the free shuttle system that connects the main campus to Tenleytown Metro. Photo by MW Transit Photos.
Similarly, the University of Maryland shuttle in College Park allows students and staff easy access to both the DC Metro and local transit systems, and American University’s (often joked about but essential) “wonk bus” connects the main campus to the nearest Metro station.
Students have unlimited transit passes.
Across the country, partnerships with colleges and transit agencies have resulted in the adoption of universal student transit pass programs. These programs provide college students with unlimited, free use of public transit.
Researchers have demonstrated that these passes have significant impacts in shifting people’s mode choice from driving alone to transit. The 10 transit agencies included in the study, from Seattle to Boulder, reported ridership increases that ranged from 30 percent to 200 percent in the first year of the program, and a corresponding decrease in auto usage.
The success of university transit programs illustrates the benefits that employer transit subsidies can have for employers, transit agencies, and employees. Transit subsidies can include free transit passes, commuting benefits, and utilizing pre-tax wages to purchase transit benefits.
Photo by American University.