campus

Unimelb Don’t Like Carpools

30 November 2013

We’re pretty lucky here at Melbourne University when it comes to transport options. We have Swanston Street, one of the world’s busiest tram corridors, on our doorstep. From the CBD, only a stone’s throw away, you can take a train along any one of 16 metropolitan and five regional lines. We’re also situated within a dense network of bicycle lanes and trails—the best in the city.

However, a survey of students and staff carried out by the university’s Property and Campus Services (PCS) department found that 17% of people coming to uni do so by car—more than the 15% who come by bike. Unfortunately, the survey didn’t break these responses down by student and staff respondents, nor did it shed light on whether factors such as age, study load or distance travelled affect transport mode.

Personally, I found the 17% figure a bit surprising, not to mention somewhat worrying. Compared to other, more suburban, universities, Melbourne University is in a great position to minimise the amount of private car trips generated by it—thus reducing carbon emissions, congestion in the local area, and the amount of space that needs to be given over to car parking. However, some people have a greater need to travel to uni by car. Danielle Rostan-Herbert, PCS’s Sustainability Manager, points towards people needing to pick up their children and take them to after-school activities­—they would find it difficult to do so without a car.

That being said, reducing the amount of people travelling to uni by car—or rather, the amount of trips taken—is a good idea for the reasons stated above. One way of doing this would be to promote carpooling, where people travelling at similar times from similar locations could travel together rather than in separate cars. The university currently has a nominal carpooling program, with a page on its Sustainable Campus website giving some information about the benefits of carpooling and giving people the opportunity to offer others rides. Unfortunately, there are only two people currently signed up.

When I spoke to Danielle about this, she told me that the program wasn’t a high priority for her department, as they believed promoting cycling and public transport were better value investments in sustainable transport. “We have finite resources and need to think how best to spend them,” she said.

Beck Roy, PCS’s Bicycle Transport Officer, said that her department often had difficulty communicating with the wider university community due to “a lack of time and resources, especially human resources”. Her work focused instead on encouraging people to cycle to uni and to catch public transport, offering a discounted yearly myki program.

In contrast, Monash University has had a much larger uptake of its carpooling program, which offers free parking for vehicles with two or more people. Eight per cent of those surveyed in 2013 said they carpooled to uni, although this was less than the 29% who drove alone. This larger uptake appears to be due to Monash’s poorer accessibility by public transport or cycling and the larger number of people travelling by car, but I believe we could learn a thing or two from our esteemed rivals in the southeast. Incentives such as free parking could increase the amount of people carpooling, as could promoting it as a way to save money and hassle.

Karen Williams from Monash’s Environmental Sustainability department told me that the “carpooling scheme is promoted at open days, orientation week and through events such as the Sustainable Transport Fiesta and the Race for Sustainability”.

Could carpooling take off at Melbourne University? One of the key barriers to improving sustainable transport initiatives like carpooling is that the university lacks data on who travels, how, and why they do so. Melbourne’s survey doesn’t break down responses by factors like age or distance travelled, so it is difficult to tell objectively what reasons people might have for driving alone and who might best be targeted for the carpooling program. In addition, travel to uni is not factored in to the university’s carbon emission reductions goals at all, as it does not directly control these emissions. However, if the university is serious about environmental sustainability, it should recognise that it can play a role in influencing how people travel to uni. All this doesn’t seem possible given the current financial and human resources given to PCS’s sustainability unit. If this unit is to be able to gather the necessary data and promote carpooling at major universities such as Monash, it would need more support and funding from the university—support that I believe would be well placed.


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