WWU works to decrease car commuting to campus

Brooke Loisel
University Communications intern
Monday, November 29, 2010 - 10:04am

[ Editor's note: A pervious version of this story was inadvertently posted this morning. The story has been updated to reflect the correct version. ]

The folks in the Sustainable Transportation Office practice what they preach. Carol Berry, Wendy Crandall and Kay McMurren all use sustainable methods of transportation to get to campus, including carpooling, busing, biking and walking.

The office has been encouraging Western Washington University employees and students to do the same for years. A large part of the staff members' work is in conjunction with the Commute Trip Reduction program.

The Commute Trip Reduction program was enacted into law by the Washington State Legislature in 1991 in order to reduce congestion, said Wendy Crandall, a program assistant with Sustainable Transportation. The program's goals are to reduce congestion, improve air quality and reduce the consumption of petroleum. CTR functions through employer-based programs that promote the use of alternatives to driving alone, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation website. The law affects the nine most populated counties in Washington, including Whatcom, stating that employers within the county with more than 100 employees must participate in the program if their employees travel to work between 6 and 9 a.m.

That is where Western's Sustainable Transportation Office comes in, as mandated, to create a program that aims to reduce the number of people who drive alone to campus.

As part of the CTR Program, the Western community has been surveyed bi-annually since 1997 to gauge the amount of people who drive-alone to work as well as the amount of miles they travel. After each survey, goals are set for the next year.

Last year, the drive-alone rate decreased by 2.5 percent. During 2007, 57.5 percent of employees at Western were driving alone to campus, but during 2009, 55 percent of employees drove alone to campus. The amount of vehicle miles traveled has also been steadily decreasing. During 2007, the employees who drove to campus averaged 5.8 miles; but during 2009, the average vehicle miles traveled decreased by 6.9 percent to 5.4 miles. Western will be surveyed again in 2012.

As a perk of the CTR program, Western employees can purchase bus passes at a discounted rate. For $58 an academic year or $23 for an academic quarter, an employee can purchase a bus pass and have his or her payment deducted through payroll.

Susan Horst, the Community Transportation Program manager with the Whatcom Council of Goverments, says that an advantage to CTR is that it creates partnerships and a channel of communication with groups of people. The program has proven to be a great way to talk to people consistently about sustainable transportation.

The Office of Sustainable Transportation sends out quarterly newsletters to communicate with people about their options and communicates through department contacts to make sure there are notebooks of information in every department about transportation options.

According to the fall 2010 Sustainable Transportation newsletter, 25 percent more faculty and staff are bicycling to work, nine percent more faculty and staff are taking the bus, nine percent more faculty and staff are carpooling to work and four percent fewer faculty and staff are driving alone to work—proving that the CTR efforts are paying off.
Sustainable Transportation works with other communication agencies, including Whatcom Smart Trips and the Everybody Bike Program, to get Western faculty, staff and students out of their cars.

Whatcom Smart Trips is an umbrella program that includes CTR and the Everybody Bike Program, Horst said. Where CTR is aimed at helping employees find alternate ways of getting to work, Smart Trips is geared toward helping everyone use sustainable transportation for everyday events. The Everybody Bike program offers free classes for Western employees—two of the classes are lecture oriented and the third is on the road. Crandall says the Everybody Bike Program boosted her confidence level on her bike. The upcoming First Gear Bicycle Class is 6 to 8 p.m. Dec. 2 at Whatcom Council of Goverments, 314 East Champion St. in Bellingham.

Horst endorses Whatcom Smart Trips and CTR because they are good for the community and individuals' personal lives, she says. Using alternate methods of transportation can save money, provide exercise and lead to a higher quality of life. She says Whatcom's CTR program has been successful; she would like to see other communities create programs that reach out beyond work trips. For the future of sustainable transportation in Whatcom County, she hopes Smart Trips continues to permeate into all aspects of peoples' lives, not only through their trips to work.

The Sustainable Transportation Office is always available with information when people are ready to find out about their options, Crandall said. The office staff can give one-on-one help to employees or students—often they help simply by figuring out a walking or biking route from the person’s house to campus.