Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Stanford University's Green Commute

In 2002, Stanford had to shift more commuters to alternative methods or it would be forced by Santa Clara County to make a huge investment in traffic mitigating infrastructure to support its expansion plans.

When I met with Brodie Hamilton, Director Parking and Transportation Services for Stanford University, I was amazed at Stanford’s commute numbers (which excludes the student population). Already in 2002, Stanford’s commute program had yielded an above average number of commuters using alternative transportation at 28%. 

Yet, Stanford had to shift even more commuters or it would be forced by Santa Clara County to make a huge investment in traffic mitigating infrastructure to support its expansion plans. 

Since Stanford was committed to the environment and had a basic commute program in-place, the decision was made to increase its efforts to promote greater use of alternative commutes. By enhancing convenience and reducing costs for commuters, Stanford exceeded its goal and now 48% of Stanford’s commuters use alternative transportation.

Baseline Commute Program
In 2002, Stanford University had already implemented a solid commute program. 
Commute Method
 Incentive Resolve adoption issues
 Drive Alone
Charge for parking  $54 - 391 annually

All alternative commute services
"Clean air cash" - Up to $100 annuallyGuaranteed ride home
Shuttle service for campus
 Public Pre-tax payroll deduction
 Car and van pool
 Free parking
Preferred parking
Van pool subsidies

 Bike /walk

 Showers and lockers9%

The Plan
Brodie Hamilton and his team first focused on leveraging existing public transportation.  In 2002, an average number of commuters (8%) used some type of public transportation. In 2008, that had grown a whooping 200% to 24% of all commuters. After careful study of point of origin commuter data, Stanford
  1. Initiated special programs with the regional transit districts to fully fund the costs of commuting.
  2. Supplied Stanford employees with transit passes to make it easy to board without the annoyance of purchasing tickets.
  3. Expanded shuttles to transit pick-up and drop-off points since a frequent down-side of alternative commuting is being locked into a schedule. Now commuters can come and go as they please. 
  4. Offered on-site car rentals and zip cars for errands. (Vouchers provide several hours at no charge) 
  5. Developed a program to provide 100% subsidy for public transportation during a trial period for those drive-alone commuters that were hesitant to make a long term commitment

The data also showed that a number of employees lived close to campus. By expanding coverage of the existing Stanford shuttle to the outer campus areas, employees in nearby neighborhoods could then use the shuttle for their commute.

One other alternative that has increased significantly is biking. In 2002, biking enjoyed an above average use at 7%. By 2008, biking was close to 11%. Stanford was fortunate that the neighboring communities were bike friendly and continued to improve. In addition, Stanford enhanced biking amenities such as increasing the number of racks, providing subsidies for helmets and folding bikes (for those commuters who also use the train).

The transportation department also made driving alone more costly by increasing parking fees significantly. The savings from parking was then more advantageous for those committing to alternative commutes. At the same time, the cost of gasoline also increased, peaking in 2008. 

As part of its comprehensive commuting program, Brodie Hamilton and his team defined a branded community for Stanford’s commuters by establishing the “Commute Club”. By joining the Commute Club, commuters receive extra benefits including a cash payment of up to $234 per year.

The Commute Club is part of a broader promotion program that announced the many new features of Stanford’s commute program and encouraged use of alternatives. Brodie Hamilton explained, “We were fortunate that over time we had three different people creating campaigns, which included an improved website, targeted marketing, banner messages, testimonials, refer-a-friend, trial period, contests and news articles.” Since its inception, Commute Club membership has grown over 90% from 3,700 employees to nearly 7,200. 

The overall results have been tremendous with an increase of 70% in alternative transportation. Those services added since 2002 are highlighted in bold.

 Commute Method
 Incentive Resolve adoption issues
 2002 2008 % Chng
 Drive Alone
Increase cost of parking $234 - to $603 annually 

 72%52% -28%
All alternative commute services
"Clean air cash" - Double annual reward with up to $282 annually
Create Commute Club
Guaranteed ride home
Shuttle service for campus

On-site car rental or zipcar subsidized with vouchers
 28%48% 71%
 PublicPre-tax payroll deduction

Free boarding
Try It, You'll Like It - 100% short-term subsidy
Shuttle service to transit
Shuttle service routes expanded
Longer hours and more frequent
8% 24% 200%
 Car and van pool
Free parking
Preferred parking
Van pool subsidies

Ride matching web service

11% 10% -9%
 Bike /walk
Subsidies for folding bikes
Discounts for helmets

Showers and lockers

More bike racks
9% 14% 36%

Brodie Hamilton shared “When I first started working on alternative commuting, I would receive a polite ‘Yes, BUT’ response …
Yes, BUT I need my car to run errands.
Yes, BUT I need my car to get home in case of an emergency.
Yes, BUT public transportation takes too long with all that standing around waiting for connections.
Yes, BUT I don’t have a place to store my bike safely.’

    My goal has been to solve the issues preventing people from leaving their cars at home. That’s the only way we will change ‘Yes, BUT …’ to ‘YES!’ ”

    Stanford University Transportation website

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