Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sustainability turns focus to student travel

Western’s Sustainable Transportation Office and University Residences have come together to introduce a new travel desk program in the Buchanan Towers Residence Hall to help students find cheaper and more convenient methods of transportation regionally and locally.

Headed by Carol Berry, Western’s Sustainable Transportation program manager, the travel desk is open in Buchanan Towers from 6 to 8 p.m. and is financed by Western’s Sustainable Transportation Office.

The office set up the desk to answer students’ questions about how to get around the Bellingham and Puget Sound areas without having to use a car. It offers information about using the bus system, biking, walking or hiking around the area.

“I know it can be kind of intimidating to ask ‘I want to go there but I don’t know how,’” Berry said.

While the desk is meant to be a source of information to students, Berry would also like to use it to see what Western students already know about alternative transportation options, she said.

Another goal is to find out how many students have cars on and around campus and use that information to help determine if Western actually needs more parking, Berry said. She said students do not want new spaces because they would be expensive and destroy lawns.

Building parking lots can cost anywhere from $500,000 to $2 million and parking permit revenue, which would pay for the construction, have not increased due to students using alternative transportation, Berry said. Western's parking revenue is lower than other Washington state colleges, she said.

Kim Edwards, fiscal specialist for Western’s Public Safety Department, said parking revenue has decreased from $600,000 in December 2007 to $559,000 last December.

Parking did not have any large projects in Western’s budget this year, but lower parking revenue can delay the time it takes to raise funds for projects like resurfacing parking lots, Gassman said.

Julia Gassman, Western’s Parking Services Manager, said parking revenue said the decrease in revenue is because more students are deciding to walk, carpool or take the bus instead of buying a parking permit.

Part of the growth in bus ridership came from the universal bus pass Western students voted on last year. All students taking six or more credits began paying a mandatory $25 fee fall quarter for a bus pass, which pays for the bus staff and the late night shuttle that runs from campus to downtown Bellingham until 2 a.m.

The travel desk will be open through the end of spring quarter. The decision to renew the program will be up to University Residences, and depends on how often students use it, Berry said.

Kay McMurren, program assistant for Student Transportation, said the Sustainable Transportation office and University Residences finalized how the travel desk would work last summer and advertised a job opening for it during the first week of fall quarter.

Fairhaven senior Zoey Brodsky, who was hired to pilot the program, works the desk and fields student questions about transportation around Bellingham.

The Sustainable Transportation Office interviewed 15 applicants to run the desk and ultimately hired Brodsky, an English literature major.

“I think they chose me because I’m a senior and I know the student body pretty well,” Brodsky said. “I’m also really experienced with the local buses and other forms of transportation.”

The most popular transportation option Brodsky has given to students recently is the $5 bus route to Seattle using the student bus pass on the local Whatcom Transportation Authority buses.