2007-10-01 – Getting Around – Green Guide

National Geographic’s Green Guide


October 1, 2007

by Sarah Lipman

As a senior in college, I’ve learned the hard way that having a car on campus can be more trouble than it’s worth. With hundreds of other students also vying for that coveted parking space, you’re usually out of luck if you’re not on campus by 8 a.m. And once you’ve finally found a parking space (across campus, nonetheless), you have to hightail it from the parking lot to class just to avoid glaring looks from professors for ducking in late.

Add those inconveniences to rising gas prices and the other environmental costs of driving, who really wants the extra hassle? Erik Schick, a junior at Arizona State University agrees that having a car on a big campus with minimal parking is too big of a pain. “Everyone rides their bikes and skateboards here, which is good because Tempe is already a big city with cars all around releasing emissions. The fewer cars there are on campus, the better for the environment and for our own health.”

He’s right. Besides cutting your stress level in half, cutting driving out of college life can have a huge impact on reducing your carbon footprint. For every gallon of gas burned, 25.3 pounds of carbon emissions are released into the atmosphere in addition to other harmful vehicle emissions like nitrogen oxide and hydrocarbons, which all deplete the ozone. Luckily, there are tons of other ways to get around campus—from rental cars to carpools or shares to trains and buses.

Most universities offer some form of public bus service to help students get to and from classes. Some even operate shuttle buses that run on less-polluting biodiesel and pollution-free hydrogen power. The University of Delaware, University of Colorado at Boulder and SUNY Stony Brook have all adapted cleaner modes of transportation for their students. But what should you do if you actually want to leave campus? Here are a few alternatives if your city or university lacks an effective transportation system:

Car Shares

Car-sharing programs are growing rapidly across the country—good news for the college-aged considering that most car rental companies prohibit people under 21 from renting cars. Zipcar, the largest car-sharing company in the world, has formed partnerships with more than 40 universities, including University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Yale University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The program allows students with at least two years of driving experience and a clean driving record to rent a car for as little as $5 per hour plus an annual membership fee of approximately $35. Not only is sharing cheaper than owning, but it benefits the environment as well. Zipcar has found that car-sharing programs reduce driving by nearly 50 percent. “We estimate that Zipcar takes about 20 cars off the road and one car can serve around 50 students,” says Adam Brophy, director of business development at Zipcar. To find out if Zipcar serves your university, see www.zipcar.com/universities.

Pedal Power

The only true pollution-free way to get around is to ride a bike or walk, which not only save pounds of CO2 emissions but can burn as much as 175 calories per hour. If you don’t own a bike or it just needs to be repaired before you start pedaling your way to class, many non-profit bike co-ops can help at minimal cost. In Manhattan, New York University students have paired up with Time’s Up!, a bike co-op that teaches maintenance and repair (www.times-up.org). The program collects abandoned bikes and refurbishes them. About 80 percent of the bikes are donated to NYU freshmen to help promote cleaner transportation. The rest are either scrapped for parts or go to the Recycle-a-Bike program operated by Time’s Up!.

“Our program is benefiting students and the planet because they’re using a cleaner mode of transportation and creates lets congestion for the city. It’s a good use of recycling all around,” Time’s Up! Director Bill DiPaola says. While programs like these may be rare, there are other ways to find bikes. Check out local warehouses, bike co-ops and thrift shops for bikes that may just need a simple tune-up. Some co-ops even offer free classes on bike repair.

Long-Distance Travel

Greyhound buses (www.greyhound.com) and Amtrak trains (www.amtrak.com) offer discounts through frequent-travelers’ rewards and Student Advantage discount cards (www.studentadvantage.com), which cost as little as $20 per year and offer a 15 percent discount to students planning trips. For the more adventurous, buses out of Chinatown in New York City are expanding to include more cities on the East and West Coasts, with roundtrips costing as little as $20 (www.chinatown-bus.org).

Also, check out Craigslist, Facebook and university billboards for ride shares. However, be sure to take the proper precautions to make sure your long-distance ride is a safe one. Conduct thorough background checks on your ride, and if possible, try to hitch a ride with someone you know or bring a friend, who’s also looking to leave campus, with you.

Sarah Lipman is a former Green Guide intern and a senior at the University of Delaware.