Following in the footsteps of others such as the University of Miami, Florida Atlantic University will soon be hosting Zipcar car sharing service on campus. In an email to students today, the university wrote the following announcement:
Wednesday, September 24 marks the University’s annual Campus Sustainability Day and this year will be special in that Zipcar, the car-sharing service, will officially launch for the entire FAU community.
Zipcar, an alternative to bringing a car to school, gives members 24/7 access to vehicles parked right on the Boca Raton campus. Low hourly ($7.50/hr) and daily ($69/day) rates include gas, insurance and 180 miles per day to go wherever you want to go. Members can reserve cars online or with a smart phone for as little as an hour or up to seven days. More information can be found at zipcar.com/fau
Campus Sustainability Day will include demonstrations and exhibits featuring many initiatives supported by FAU. Come visit the Mission Green Student Association, the Green Team Leaders, Dirt Pros, South Florida Commuter Services, Housing and Residential Life, Chartwells and Zipcar to learn how you can lower your carbon footprint.
Please join us on Wednesday, Sept. 24 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in front of the Boca Raton Student Union to celebrate and to see what Zipcar is all about.
Who will use the new Zipcars being put into place? Car sharing systems work best for people who are getting around without their personal vehicle. For those willing to live without owning their own car, a car sharing service is a great tool that allows use of a car for those occasional trips that require it. FAU’s Boca Raton campus is actually well connected multimodally. The Boca Raton Tri-Rail station is about 2 miles from the FAU campus, with options to get to campus either by bike or bus. The El Rio Canal Trail ducks underneath I-95 in a great route that’s completely separate from the road. Palm Tran offers a connecting bus service with a fairly direct route that’s only a bit slower than biking.
Despite this solid connectivity, FAU still generates a lot of auto trips—enough to warrant the new interchange that is under construction at Spanish River Blvd. Let’s look at the things that encourage people to drive instead of getting to campus without a car. As a student at FAU for the past few years, I have taken the train, ridden my bike, and driven my car to campus on many occasions, so some of these insights are from personal experience.
- It’s quicker to drive.
From where I live in Oakland Park, I can drive to campus in 30 minutes, even in 6 PM traffic. Riding my bicycle to the train station takes 20 minutes, taking the train to the Boca station takes 15 minutes, and riding from the Boca station to campus takes 10 minutes. This is typical of public transit, but one of the tradeoffs is the ability to work on something else during your commute. But in my case, and no doubt many others, you could drive and get there early enough to still have extra time to study.
- Tri-Rail stops running too early.
We had a good conversation on this subject on our Facebook page when Sunrail riders put out a petition for night and weekend service. Tri-Rail is not much better. Some classes (all of the ones in my grad school program) get out at 10 PM, and the last southbound train through Boca Raton campus is at 9:17 PM. So some people could take the train to class and get stuck trying to figure out some other way to get home. For me, that has always been biking 15 miles home at 10 PM at night. Not something for everyone.
- You pay for parking already.
You can be an online only student, but at FAU you’re still required to pay a “Transportation Access Fee” which is basically a parking fee. I even dropped an entire semester, got the university to drop all my other course fees-but they refused to drop the Transportation Access Fee for that semester. They sent it to collections, but ultimately I had to pay it before I could register for classes after I re-enrolled two years later. While FAU officially states that this fee goes towards all the transportation infrastructure, it’s worth mentioning that there is not a single designated bike lane on campus, and the only new bike racks going in have been useless “wave” style bike racks that are bolted to the concrete. So I could risk my bike getting damaged in a poorly designed rack or getting stolen by someone with a wrench, or I can use a railing that was not paid for by the Transportation Access Fee if I want my bike truly safe and secure. Also, even though Tri-Rail offers a student discount pass that can apply to FAU students, FAU funnels no funding their way to cover this.
Other universities, such as the University of Florida, structure their fees so that a parking permit is optional, paid for only by those who want to drive to campus. Their parking fee might be higher, but basic economics tells you that if you want to encourage multimodal transportation, you need to pass along the costs of parking as well as the savings from not parking. If this fee were only for an optional parking permit, I would never drive to FAU. I didn’t for a year while I had no car.
- It costs more to take transit.
This one may or may not be true. Depends on your situation. But if you take Tri-Rail, you have to pay the fare for the train, then if you don’t have a bicycle with you, pay the transfer fare to get on the Palm Tran route to FAU. Then pay the Palm Tran fare on the way back. If you got a convenient round-trip Tri-Rail ticket, you get no discount on the trip back, either. Tri-Rail fares are all over the place, but round trip from Cypress Creek to Boca Raton is normally $6.25. A 50¢ transfer fare applies if you remember to get a pass after getting off the train, otherwise you’re stuck paying the full $2. Then it’s another $2 for the trip back to Tri-Rail. So, with regular fare, it will cost you at least $8.75 to go a 15-20 mile distance. With most cars that’s less than a gallon of gas, which I bought a few of yesterday for $3.19. That doesn’t account for the other expenses (car maintenance, insurance, payments, doctor bills from getting fat), but it’s all most people look at. Wait, you say there’s a student discount? Let’s look at that.
- Student discounts are hard to get.
With Tri-Rail, you have to get a special Easy Card, available only in person at the Metrorail transfer station, the Pompano Beach station, the Fort Lauderdale Airport station, or the West Palm Beach station-but only during normal business hours. If you commute early in the morning or only to evening classes, good luck trying to find one of these open. I went to one class a week in Boca for an entire semester without being able to get the discount card. It’s $2 for the Easy Card, BTW. Of course you brought your student ID with you, right? That’s not enough. You have to print out a current class schedule and bring it with you to prove that you’re really and truly a student. Then they’ll snap your photo and all your Tri-Rail tickets for the rest of your life are half off. Well, OK. Until the card expires, anyway-but I have no clue when that happens as it doesn’t say on my card. Required reading here and here.
OK, you got your Tri-Rail discount card. What about Palm Tran? Well, theoretically, you just need to show student ID and your bus fare is only $1. I’ve never gotten to try this one because it’s limited to those under 21. If you’re an upperclassman or a grad student, you’re probably out of luck. Required reading here.
University of Florida actually tacked on a fee to tuition to help fund Gainesville’s transit system, and all students ride the bus free just by showing their student ID. No hoops to jump through, and a big incentive to use the bus.
- It’s hot.
OK, this one is a normal part of Florida life. Sitting out at a bus stop or riding a bicycle always makes you sweat more than if you drive in your air conditioned car. The proper response is to embrace the sweat (I wear breathable polo shirts) and remember that you need the exercise.
- There’s no room for bikes on the train.
The new Tri-Rail trains have only two awkward bike racks, and 4 or 5 bikes are usually crammed into this area. Your bike might fall over, or the conductor might tell you to get another car because his already has two—even though he doesn’t see that the other car has six bikes crammed into that spot. The pic on the right is a typical sight for bikes being crammed in and shuffled around.
- I don’t know where to go.
Wayfinding is a definite concern getting around FAU. I took a class in 2007 before the El Rio Canal trail was open underneath I-95, and got lost a couple times riding my bike from the Tri-Rail station to FAU, meandering through the nearby neighborhoods. It’s better now, except for construction ocassionally blocking the trail. The El Rio Trail between Spanish River and Glades Rd. has only one real connection to the large, sprawling, campus-the crossing at NW 20th St. You ride right by the soccer fields, where a sidewalk taunts you by coming within 5 feet of the path—but offering a drop off of several inches as well as a distinct lack of curb ramps to get onto the road. You’d have better luck cutting across the grass onto a gravel-strewn asphalt parking lot slightly north of there. No drop-offs, but lots of stop signs and opportunities to get lost on campus. Neither of these are real connections, but rather just gaps in the fences. If you want to get to the east side of campus, it’s more direct to get on Spanish River Blvd and enter the campus there on the roads, riding in their undesignated “bike lane.”
This is probably not an exhaustive list, but it should be enough to give the executives at Zipcar pause. Why would you want to invest in an area that would discourage use of your system? We don’t have information yet on the particulars of the Zipcar deal. Perhaps FAU is seeding them funds. But if I worked at Zipcar, I wouldn’t invest in a system at FAU without asking them to change those factors that the university can control—get rid of the flat transportation access fee and replace it with an optional parking permit fee. Now, the launch of Zipcar is good news. But without changes at and around the university, it will not last. Anyone who drives to FAU all the time will not be using Zipcar.
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