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Boston schools seek to reduce driving on campus, encourage public transportation

Posted by boston.com  February 6, 2014 06:25 PM

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In an effort to shift away from driving, universities and colleges in the Greater Boston area are offering students more options to use public transportation and opportunities to shape transportation policy, according to a report released Thursday by MASSPIRG Education Fund.

The report, titled "A New Course: How Innovative University Programs Are Reducing Driving on Campus and Creating New Models for Transportation Policy," featured University of Massachusetts Boston, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northeastern University, and Harvard University as innovators in transportation policy. The schools offer students discounts on popular public transportation options or make it difficult to park and drive on campus.

"Here in Massachusetts, we have so many great colleges and universities who already have given these policies a test run," said Kirstie Pecci, staff attorney at MASSPIRG. "Now state policymakers need to pick up the baton, look at what works, and institute these policies themselves."

One transportation option all these schools have in common is the Hubway bike-sharing service.

"Harvard, MIT, Northeastern, and UMass Boston have all instituted Hubway stations that would benefit students across the country," Pecci said. "The difficult part of these programs is that every university and locale is unique and there are always new hurdles that they have to overcome. However, when you have a laundry list of different options, it's very doable.

"The Millennial generation believes in alternative modes of transportation. If the state gives them these options, they they can hop on board."

Americans ages 16 to 34 reduced their annual driving miles by 23 percent per person between 2001 and 2009, according to research from the most recent data from the Federal Highway Administration, the report said.

"There has to be a buy-in by all the parties and there has to be investment by the MBTA and by the universities," Pecci said. "Instead of subsidizing parking, do public transportation when the programs have worked and the students have valued it."

The Massachusetts Legislature voted in July 2013 to override Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick's veto of an $800 million transportation finance bill. Patrick originally proposed a $19 billion transportation bond bill to fund road, bridge, and rail projects for 10 years.

"The transportation finance act last year was fine, but there has to be recognition that this was just a first step. Many of the investment programs were handled, but further investment will be needed as we work on the system," Pecci said. "We need to refine what work needs to be done. Much of it is making a modern and safe system. We need to keep this conversation alive."

Some students at universities in Boston said they like having a car on campus because it provides another outlet to get to places further than public transportation allows.

"Having a car offers the liberty that public transportation can't provide us," said Boston University sophomore Tyler Bartels, who has a car on campus. "Public transportation puts everything into a structure. Plans revolve around when you leave in order to make the train, but with a car, it gives you more freedom."

Elliott Johns, a fourth year student at Northeastern, said the only reason he had a car was for his co-op program.

"I work in Billerica and the only way I can get there is by driving," Johns said. "Even when I'm not on co-op, I'm tempted to keep my car because I live in Coolidge Corner on the C Line. Northeastern is on the E Line and it's about a 30 minute walk to campus, but on the T is also about 30 minutes. It's definitely convenient because when it gets colder, it is really easy and convenient to just drive over to campus and park for free."

Mitch Gallerstein, a sophomore at Northeastern, said he does not have a car on campus because in Boston, he can get around well-enough without one.

"You can walk and the T is pretty cheap," he said. "For the most part, they do a pretty good job with the system. Yes, it can be a little painful with delays and not getting a lot of information from them, but it is convenient that we have two stops right on our campus. You can take that downtown and get pretty much anywhere you need to go."

Johns said when he uses public transportation, he is content with the MBTA system.

"Coming from Florida, where the only system we had was buses, it wasn't very practical," he said. "But here, it is very practical. If I didn't have a job where I needed to get a car, then I wouldn't have it. Parking is very expensive here and overall I am happy with the improvements they have made so far."

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