Need a ride? University expanding options for getting to and around campus
Starting this fall, you'll be able to get behind the wheel to run an errand even if you're among the carless. Or, you can get help finding a carpool to University Park or any of the Penn State campuses.
That's because Penn State Transportation Services is introducing several new initiatives to expand the options for getting around while at the same time reducing on-campus congestion and helping the University meet its sustainability goals. Carshare is one program that's in the works. Other plans include a rideshare program, operating clean natural gas as a way to power University vehicles and bike share in 2017.
"One of our jobs is to provide the options people are asking for and see which ones are successful and continue to roll out new ones," said Rob DeMayo, director of Transportation Services. "In some cases, the programs reduce single occupancy vehicles. In other cases, people are getting out of their cars and biking or walking. For us, we're reducing customer and departmental costs, and helping the University meet its 2020 goals."
Those 2020 goals include cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 35 percent.
Using clean natural gas (CNG) to power University vehicles is another avenue Transportation Services is pursuing, starting with a test run on two campus shuttle buses in 2014, followed by some of the vehicles used by Transportation Services. Those were a success, DeMayo said, and now the department is testing converting from gas to hybrids in the vans that shuttle mail around University Park and people between University Park and Penn State Hershey.
Helping spearhead the department's efforts is Cecily Zhu, the University's first alternative transportation coordinator.
"We're trying to offer as many options as possible in order to develop a well-rounded and comprehensive alternative transportation program," Zhu said.
The University is planning to introduce a carshare program this fall, giving drivers the option of paying for short-term use of a car.
"It's like a community car," DeMayo said. "The cars will be parked in high visibility areas. Students often bring a car to campus, park it and it sits there unused for weeks. One of our messages is going to be: you don't necessarily need to bring your cars to campus."
DeMayo said the operation, through an agreement with Enterprise CarShare, will likely start with six to eight vehicles and grow based on demand. Plans are to get the first cars over the summer, with the full program up and running at University Park in the fall, with more details to come. The program will be open to campuses too, based on demand.
The money the company pays in parking fees will be used to cover the administrative costs of the rideshare program that's also getting rolled out.
The new rideshare initiative will help employees, graduate students and anyone with a Penn State ID find fellow Penn Staters hoping to carpool -- at University Park and all the campuses. Drivers looking for passengers or passengers looking for someone to ride with will be able to use an online program to map their route and look for fellow commuters, contact each other and agree to cost sharing.
In addition to helping commuters save money, the program is expected to cut back on the number of single-occupancy vehicles on campus and the congestion that comes with them. Transportation Services is in the process of identifying a vendor and expects to implement this program in the fall.
Repairs, education and bike share
To help keep bikers -- along with drivers and pedestrians -- safe, Zhu is working with University Police to develop Bicycle Enforcement and Education Program or BEEP. With BEEP, which is scheduled to be introduced in the fall, bicyclists who break the rules can have their first ticket waived if they take an education course.
The University also is increasing the number of bike repair stations around the University Park campus from the four currently available, with plans to add another four.
Bike share is another option that is in the works. Similar to carshare, with bike share, riders have the option of leaving their bikes at home and paying a reasonable fee to use one when they need it. This initiative is slated to be rolled out in 2017, with a soft launch in the summer and full launch in the fall.
Check Penn State Today for updates on these initiatives.