Riding Bus, Telecommuting Among Study Recommendations

Riding Bus, Telecommuting Among Study Recommendations

By University Communications
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Imagine riding the bus into work four days a week and working from home on the fifth. Imagine using a University-provided car to take care of a midday doctor's appointment or attend a meeting off campus.

Imagine not having to find, or pay for, a parking space on campus.

The scenario is one of many being considered by The University of Arizona in light of a transportation needs assessment study that confirmed what we already know: Traffic onto, out of and on campus is bad.

The UA is one of the largest activity centers in metropolitan Tucson, with more than 50,000 students and employees plus visitors. It's a destination and departure point for countless cars, bicycles, buses and walkers every day.

In fact, says Patrick Kass, director of Parking and Transportation Services, “the campus hosts more people per square mile, and is the largest traffic generator, than any other area within the Tucson metropolis area.”

The needs assessment study was conducted during 2007-2008 by Morrison-Maierle Inc. for the UA and the Pima Association of Governments. Its purpose was to identify existing and short-term travel demand to and from the campus with existing modes of transportation. Data collected during the study was used to develop various options the University should consider in order to continue to provide access to the campus as it grows.

“It becomes a balance between managing access to campus and its growth. Right now we have a 4-to-1 ratio between people and parking spaces. Our survey investigates the impact of a 15 percent growth forecast in 2010 – which we know is conservative – but we also know we are working with limited space and that the streets surrounding campus are already near capacity” Kass said.

To keep congestion in check, there needs to be a shift in perception and actions, the study concluded.

Specifically: shift toward embracing alternative means of transportation.

The UA already has programs in place to make the switch as effortless as possible.

  • U-Pass gives students and employees half-price Sun Tran passes, while Sun Tran has a trip coordinator to help users plan their routes and calculate travel time.
  • CatTran provides shuttle service around campus
  • RideShare offers carpool-matching services, while an alternative transportation program coordinator provides staff with carpooling information.
  • The vanpool and carpool programs provide special parking accommodations

Many of these services already are well-used. The study found that 50 percent of members of the University community use alternative modes of transportation to get to class or work. It suggested an expanded slate of options for the University, including:

  • A "universal transit pass" for students.
  • An increase in prices for parking passes.
  • An increase in employee telecommuting.
  • More Web-based classes.

Offering more choices, and getting more participation, could mean reduced congestion, as well as financial savings for the converts.

The study found that the average commute for UA employees is 11 miles each way. “With the increase of gas prices, a 22-mile daily commute adds up,” said David Heineking, associate director of operations for Parking and Transportation Services.

"We need to change perceptions on the ease of accessibility to Sun Tran and increase knowledge of what is already out there to encourage alternative access,” he said.

One way his office is trying to do that is by offering to free rides to anyone at the UA who wants to give Sun Tran a try.

But being carless on campus makes some uncomfortable.

“We realize that people have varying needs day to day – they may need to go to a doctor’s appointment or have an emergency. So we are looking at coordinating hourly car rentals for student and staff needs. Also we are looking at how a compressed work week would affect traffic patterns; the longer work days would decrease congestion and emissions by at least 20 percent and telecommuting provides another alternative to the mix,” Kass said, “Every little piece that people can commit to helps.”

Alternative modes of transportation can mean saving the headaches that come with traffic, and the sting that comes from gas prices. But it also means doing a little to save the planet.

“Alternative transportation helps sustainability efforts in terms of air quality and emissions – so we all win,” Heineking said.

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