Area college students can opt for ‘green’ rides

As area colleges prepare for students converging for a new school year, they have restarted efforts

As area colleges prepare for students converging for a new school year, they have restarted efforts to provide students with environmentally friendly transportation options.

And for students, if riding the “green” wave was more of a hindrance than a convenience, schools are now making a point to sell the idea.

At the University at Albany, which has long suffered from limited student parking, students are encouraged to leave their cars at home. Freshmen, in fact, are prohibited from bringing a car to campus.

But a year into its new car-sharing service, UAlbany’s Office for Environmental Sustainability Director Mary Ellen Mallia said that student car use is becoming less of an issue on campus.

“It’s basically something that students can use in a pinch,” Mallia said. “We actually sought out this service for our freshmen who can’t have cars on campus. But maybe they need a car for those special trips, grocery runs, errands.”

The Hertz on Demand program provides the school with four cars — three on the uptown campus and one downtown on the Alumni Quad — for students 18 years or older to rent on an hourly basis. About 170 students signed up for the program last year, and Mallia said she expects that number to grow this year after incoming students expressed interest in the service during their orientation tours.

If the service actually reduces emissions and congestion around campus, that is simply an added benefit. Hertz on Demand boasts that for the use of every one of its vehicles, it eliminates 14 personal vehicles on the road.

“It’s a little of both — convenience and environmental consciousness,” Mallia said. “We’re hoping that it will especially be beneficial to those who might want to carpool but are hesitant to because they need to go out during the day for an errand.”

UAlbany is the only regional school to offer such a service. Other area schools have expressed interest in acquiring a similar service — possibly through Hertz, or the popular Zipcar program.

Bus options

But some school officials have reservations that car-sharing services might discourage public transportation use.

At Union College in Schenectady, sustainable campus committee group U Sustain has looked into car-sharing options, but questioned whether the program would increase the number of miles driven around town.

“If somebody doesn’t have a car on campus our first preference would be for them to ride with somebody else or to use the bus,” said Jeffrey Corbin, U Sustain faculty co-chair and biology professor.

The student and faculty group has developed two innovative, Web-based projects to encourage students to opt for environmentally friendly transportation.

The residential campus employs a campus trolley that stops at residence halls, the library, and other academic buildings to pick students up and drop them off. Union’s trolley service never saw huge use though, Corbin said. So through the President’s Green Grant Program, which funds grassroots sustainability projects, liberal arts and engineering students developed a trolley tracker that logs in real time where the trolley is on campus.

“They can see where it’s running,” Corbin said. “So if it’s January and snowing pretty heavily out, they can track this in real time to know where it is without having to wait 15 minutes at a trolley stop.”

Computer science students plan to launch this year a Web-based carpooling service, similar to iCarpool, which would connect students and faculty online to register for regular carpooling opportunities or single event carpools. The pilot service would also interface with Facebook — another convenience to students in an age of instant social media updates and foursquare check-ins.

No thumbtacks

If a student wants to go for a weekend trip to Boston, for example, or make a quick trip to Walmart, the carpooling service allows them to plan in advance rather than scramble at the last minute for a ride, Corbin said.

“We’re trying to bring it up to the 21st century,” he said. “It’s an upgrade from the old-fashioned map in the student union where you put a little thumbtack in to say ‘I’m leaving here at 4 p.m.’ We’re doing the same thing, only basically harnessing the power of online mapping and algorithms.”

In Saratoga Springs, students at Skidmore College have long been on the environmental bandwagon, largely with a reliance on its bus service. The small liberal arts college is one of few to offer a free bus service through CDTA right to its campus.

In the same vein as the car-sharing setup, the college’s Environmental Action Club worked to bring a green bikeshare program to campus that allows students to borrow a bike from Campus Safety when they need one to get around campus or get into town and back, said Sustainability Coordinator Riley Neugebauer.

“While this has had some ups and downs over the years, it is a great project and something I would like to see grow in the future,” she said.

In the coming year, Skidmore plans to extend its walking and biking path on campus, in an effort to improve campus mobility, she said.

“It works really well in this day and age,” said Corbin of Union College’s providing green transportation options to students. “Most freshmen don’t have cars, and my experience is that a lot of other students don’t either. So every little bit helps. We certainly want to do everything we can.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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