In Focus: Website Offers Advice on How To Kick the Gasoline Habit

When it comes to getting to work, it’s arriving on time, not the journey itself, that usually matters most to employees, but Holly Parker, director of Yale’s Transportation Options program, is working to get the University’s carbon-consuming commuters to focus on the journey.

Parker, who has been in her job a little over a year, has already made progress both in changing the way staff, faculty and students get to campus from outlying areas, and in eliminating the need for car ownership among Yale affiliates who live downtown.

“There are almost 1,800 people who live within New Haven who pay to park at Yale,” notes Parker.

To reduce this number, last fall she introduced the Zipcar service, which makes fuel-efficient vehicles available for short-term rental to Yale faculty, staff and students 24 hours a day, seven days a week at seven campus locations. The hourly rental fee for the Zipcars includes fuel, insurance and maintenance — making them a hit among Yale community members, who use them for quick runs to the big box stores and other suburban amenities. Parker tells of one Yale student who gleefully reported that he was using the Zipcar to pick up Halloween costumes.

In fact, the program has been such a success that this year the Transportation Options more than doubled its fleet of Zipcars, from 6 to 14. In addition, in keeping with the westward expansion of the Yale campus, it added a new pick-up and drop-off station at 25 Science Park, where 600 Yale employees are now housed .

Parker hopes that, once Yale community members learn about other viable options, they will forsake car-ownership for walking, bike-riding and occasional Zipcar rental.

Toward that end, Yale Transportation Options recently launched an interactive website (www.yale.edu/to) that aims to encourage far-flung members of the Yale family to kick the gasoline habit and seeks to help those already on campus to get around without polluting the air or burning non-renewable resources.

The website features practical tips for both the already-converted and those who still need to be convinced. It urges potential ride-sharers to connect with each other and short-distance drivers to connect with their inner bike-rider. It posts bus and train schedules, and maps of bus stops; and, for those who are still ambivalent or uncertain about their options, it offers an opportunity to book one-on-one “commuter counseling.”

Parker, a non-car-owning bike rider, is sympathetic to the plight of the car-dependent - acknowledging that the car is “a tremendous mobility tool.” But while some individuals who resist alternative transportation have legitimate reasons, such as day-care issues, many cite the “smallest excuses” for driving alone, says Parker. Her “favorite,” she notes, is: “I don’t have exact change for the bus.”

The website also offers matchmaking services to drivers who no longer want to go it alone. Keri Enright-Kato, who commutes to her job in the Office of Sustainability from West Hartford, has happily hitched up with commuters from her area who were daily making the 80-mile round trip solo. While her description of regulations and rewards might sound daunting to the uninitiated, Enright-Kato proclaims, “Once you get the system down, it’s easy.”

The benefits of ride-sharing go beyond kicking the car habit and finding eco-gratification, or even saving money on parking, she says. Sharing the ride, she notes, “is a lot more fun than driving by myself.

“Everyone in my car pool is someone I probably wouldn’t have met otherwise,” she says, mentioning that as a fairly new employee living far from the campus, she found it hard to connect to people in the Yale community. “You become friends with these people,” she says of her fellow ride-sharers.

Because many people do need to have ready access to their cars - either routinely or for occasional errands, doctor’s visits and the like - Parker says the Transportation Options mission is “really about providing as many possible options as you can.”

The first option the website recommends to its out-of-bike-range commuters is: “Take advantage of Yale’s generous homebuyer program and move to town.” Another, more modest, option it lists is the “guaranteed ride home” program, which is available to Yale commuters who are registered in carpools, van pools or transit. If an illness, family crisis or unexpected need to work late should arise, or if the driver of a carpool is suddenly unavailable, the commuter can take a taxi and be fully reimbursed by Yale. Commuters in the ridesharing program are also eligible for up to three free daily parking passes a month.

By all accounts, sharing the commute to work is gaining popularity in the greater Yale community. The uncertain economy and the volatility of gas prices, speculates Parker, are probably the reason enrollment in the ridesharing program has accelerated dramatically in the past few months. In the month of November, which saw the sharpest spike, the number of participating cars with three or more passengers increased more than 50% from the previous month, adding 14 new rideshares to the rolls. In the past year the total number of cars in the ridesharing program has increased from 188 to 283.

The unabashedly pro-bike website -which even lists the names and addresses of local bike shops - encourages cycling enthusiasts to meet each other and join advocacy groups lobbying to get more bike lanes in New Haven streets.

The website also gives up-to-date information on the “Y-Bike” program, which provides free bikes for traveling within the spreading campus.

“Y-Bike” began as a pilot with one bicycle assigned to 10 participating University departments: Sterling Memorial Library and the Offices of Sustainability, Parking and Transit, School of Medicine Facilities Operations, and Printing and Publishing Services among them. Recently, the cycling program added 10 new sites, including the Peabody Museum, the Yale Farm, 25 Science Park (with two bikes), the Institute of Sacred Music and the Law School.

Each bike comes with a combination U-Lock (no need for keys) and is equipped with one collapsible basket and a rear rack for books, laptops, etc. New custom-designed bike racks will be installed at sites that lack them or are not adequately equipped, and the Transportation Options website offers bike riders a way to e-mail their recommendations for new bike rack locations. The website can be found at www.yale.edu/transportationoptions/alternatives/bicycling.html.

For the cycling-challenged, Transportation Options offers a class through the Yale WorkLife series on basic bicycle commuting at http://learn.caim.yale.edu/lcdb/courses/classinfo.asp?CourseID=1228. This spring they will introduce a class on “Urban Cycling Skills,” which includes on-the-road training. Those interested in participating in that class should send e-mail to erin.pascale@yale.edu.

In addition, the new website features a “Campus Proximity Map,” showing two concentric circles radiating from the Yale campus. The inner circle designates the area within which a resident can walk to Yale in 15 minutes, while the outer circle indicates where a resident can bike to work in the same amount of time.

The map, notes Parker, is meant to serve as a graphic reminder of just how easy it is to get rid of your car and still get to work on time.

— By Dorie Baker

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Media Contact

Dorie Baker: dorie.baker@yale.edu, 203-432-1345