MassPIRG report praises efforts by UMass to reduce vehicles on campus

Wednesday, February 19, 2014
AMHERST — Campuses such as the University of Massachusetts Amherst are reducing driving on campus by providing a wider range of transportation choices for students, according to a report issued this month by the MASSPIRG Education Fund.

“University and college campuses are at the forefront of encouraging new ways to get around that don’t depend on personal cars. Public officials who want to stay ahead of the curve should be taking notes,” said Beth Ramey, a UMass senior and the state board chairwoman of the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group.

UMass has seen a decrease in single occupancy driving by offering alternatives and discouraging on-campus students from bringing their vehicles. “Thirty-five percent of freshmen students used to bring their cars and now the percentage is seven,” said Robert Hendry, the UMass Commuter Options Program coordinator.

The Commuter Options Program encourages the use of Pioneer Valley Transit Authority buses, bicycles and the UMass carpooling and vanpooling options. “In terms of student transportation, our transit system has made the biggest impact. About 35 percent of students take the bus to UMass,” said Hendry.

The effort for alternative transportation minimizes impacts on the environment and improves the quality of life on campus for students, faculty and staff, according to UMass officials. Building more parking facilities is costly and would reduce green space that encourages outdoor activities on campus.

“Anything we can do to reduce single-occupancy vehicles is saving the university and its students money in the long run,” said Jeri Baker, the transportation services director at UMass.

The “occasional parker program” at UMass provides discounted one-day parking permits for employees and students who normally walk, bicycle or take a bus to campus but who must occasionally drive. It provides an alternative to the year-long, full-price parking permit.

Ramey said there are similarities between university campuses and cities. “They must get the most value out of limited land, they are acutely aware of problems associated with being overrun by cars and they need to focus on the tastes and aspirations of young people,” she said. “It’s no wonder that universities are leaders in finding successful ways to make it easier for people to drive less.”