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Transportation Policy Committee Explores Ways to Offset Future Commuting Costs

By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
May 28, 2008

Using a projected gasoline price of $8 a gallon in 2013, the Transportation Policy Committee spent its last meeting of the academic year brainstorming ideas that could in the future help faculty, staff and students conserve fuel, save money and reduce UNH’s carbon footprint while sustaining the quality of life that our walking campus provides.

Chaired by Dick Cannon, vice president for finance and administration, the Transportation Policy Committee (TPC) is an advisory board that takes a systemic perspective on transportation and makes recommendations to the president on issues related to transportation management, including parking policy and regulations.

During the brainstorming exercise, the board split into two groups and focused on three key issues: possible actions that could be taken, how to inform the community of those actions, and how to finance them.

Both groups listed affordable housing for faculty, staff and students located close to the university as a necessary component to help reduce the number of vehicles on campus. Increasing transit in commuter locations such as Dover and Rochester, where many members of the UNH community live, was also cited, as was adding more park-and-ride locations throughout the region.

Another possibility would be to have UNH subsidize private bus services such as C&J and possibly even the Downeaster for those workers and students living in the vicinity of Dover and Exeter where the passenger train makes stops. There was also talk of working with other transportation operators serving the region so UNH Transportation Services could “piggyback” and provide service to a wider area.

A ride-share plan currently being explored would also help decrease the volume of cars at UNH. And, more employees would be apt to bike to work if there were bike shelters and changing rooms with showers available, participants noted.

There was also mention of creating an incentive (such as lower parking rates) for those who drive alternative fuel vehicles; adopting a 10-hour, four-day workweek with consideration given to essential personnel who support dining, facilities and housing; a telecommuting policy; and UNH supplying gasoline to faculty, staff and students at a reduced rate.

Several ideas on how to support the recommendations were discussed, including implementing a tiered parking permit plan with the cost varying based on salary and for spaces at T Hall and night students.

Other suggestions were to charge a parking fee for all special events; to charge a user or community parking fee; to have parking fees be pre-taxed dollars; to have faculty and staff pay a $50 transit fee to ride the bus or the shuttle; and to charge departments for transportation costs.

There was also mention of utilizing something similar to the Charlie Card used for Massachusetts transit that allows for a certain number of prepaid rides. The key to the exercise was thinking about how all of these suggestions would interact with land use, enrollment and the academic plan to contribute to UNH’s sustainable learning community.

UNH has more than 4,000 faculty and staff and 3,800 student commuters – the vast majority of whom commute alone in their vehicles.

Each faculty or staff member travels an average of 6,240 miles a year while a student averages 3,250 a year. At current gas prices, the annual commuter costs add up to $1,092 and $612 respectively. If prices rise to $8 per gallon by 2013 those annual costs will exceed $2,500 and $1,250.

As a community this adds up to more than $4 million dollars spent in 2008, representing more than 25 million miles of travel and 21,000 tons of CO2 emissions. These generated emissions represent more than 20 percent of UNH’s emissions.

But the cost of driving is more than just fuel. Using the IRS per mile full travel rate (50.5c/mile), the 2008 annual cost of UNH commuter travel and car ownership is more than $3,000 for faculty and staff members and $1,778 for commuter students.

If some of those private costs could be reduced and put into productive use in building UNH’s transportation system options, the entire community would benefit in terms of mobility, reduced energy and emissions, and actual cash savings and students would experience creative problem solving to transportation policy that they could carry into their civic and professional lives.

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