Phoenix is a sprawled city making mass transit difficult for its residents, but Arizona State University officials hope to encourage students to be more sustainable in their transportation choices.
ASU continues to show its commitment to sustainability and reaching its goal of carbon neutrality. Complete mitigation of transportation emissions by 2035 may seem like a big goal, but baby steps are what will make a great green leap.
To find the amount of carbon that is being off put by the different forms of transportation, a carbon assessment must be conducted in three different types of scopes, said Bonny Bentzin, director of sustainable practices at ASU. The first is emissions directly burned on campus. An example of this would be ASU's fleet vehicles that students see driving around the campus. The second scope is purchased electricity that is off campus . And the third scope is indirectly related to the campus by business and commuter travel. Scope three ranges from a student driving to school every day to faculty members flying out of state on business.
"Scope one we will have control over by 2025," Bentzin said. "We wanted to let the technology catch up and do some of our own efforts in the meantime."
While ASU already has its fleet vehicles under its sustainable standards, it also has various transportation options for students located in the Tempe area or on campus.
One option that has become available the past couple years is the Valley Metro Light Rail. Students and residents of Phoenix have the ability to travel from 19th and Montebello avenues to Main and Sycamore streets. Students have the option to buy a U-Pass, which allows them as many times on the light rail as they would like for two semesters at a cost of $80. However, ASU's Leona Morales, a communications specialist at the parking and transit services, said the prices are likely to rise for next semester but believes it is still a discount to students.
"The cost for the upcoming 2011 to 2012 academic year is just $150. The $150 cost for the 2011 to 2012 U-Pass is a 61.5 percent discount from the price of the student transit pass Valley Metro sells," Morales said. "Valley Metro's student transit pass costs $390 for nine months of usage or $195 a semester. It provides only for local service (local bus routes and light rail) while the U-Pass includes RAPID and express routes, too."
Some think the U-Pass is a great deal for those who travel from Tempe to downtown frequently; however, Morgan Theys, a student who commutes and spends time on both the downtown and Tempe campus, disagrees.
"The light rail at certain times at night is not the safest place for a girl and it takes an hour to get from Tempe to downtown," Theys said.
But just because Theys doesn't take advantage of the light rail doesn't mean she disapproves of all public transportation Tempe has to offer its ASU students.
"When I'm trying to get around I'll take the Flash and I know there's the Orbit," Theys said. "And the Flash takes me to Tempe Marketplace every hour on the hour, which is convenient."
The Tempe Flash and Orbit are both campus shuttles that offer free services to students and faculty in the Tempe area. The intercampus shuttle is a free service that takes students to all four of ASU's campuses and offers free Wi-Fi while on the shuttle.
With parking and car services, parking and transit offers monthly contests and carpool-reserved spaces to those who take advantage of carpooling. ShareTheRide.com is a site that helps find others in the Valley that live close that are interested in carpooling.
For those who still like the luxury of a car but may not own one, the Zipcar is an option for students possibly living on campus that may need a car to run certain errands. It allows them to rent a car for an allotted amount of time for an hourly or daily rate that includes gas, insurance, maintenance, roadside assistance and allows travel up to 180 miles per trip.
"Part of the value of buying a Zipcar is for people who are put off by taking public transportation to make other resources available while still being efficient," Bentzin said. "If you're going to Ikea, the bus isn't exactly the best thing to take."
City, university collaboration
Tempe and ASU collaborate on many forms of transportation that are available for students and support each other's programs, Morales said.
Their new incentive for next year is a trial run called the Eco-Pass, which would encompass a U-Pass or a platinum pass, which is offered to faculty and staff for a full calendar year of August to August at a discounted rate ($390 local, $520 express), and gives those who purchase it availability to park on campus up to 25 times in the academic year.
"The added cost beyond the cost of the U-Pass or Platinum Pass would be just $50 to $100 depending on where you needed to park," Morales said. "This will encourage those who only need a vehicle certain days out of the year to rely more on our transit options."
Although the Eco-Pass will not give Theys much of an incentive, she said she does love the option of renting bikes at the bike co-op.
The bike co-ops is in place on the Tempe and Poly campuses and is paid for by the student government and parking and transit. This means it is of no cost to students who rent them. Air compression stations are offered in different locations around the Tempe campus, giving students incentives to rent the bikes, Bentzin said.
"People are more apt to use bikes on campus if they have certain amenities like air stations, where they can blow up their tire," Bentzin said. "If students have access to resources, they are more likely to use it and they get incentives for riding bikes."
However, Theys doesn't feel like two weeks for a bike rental is enough for the students that use it.
"If they offered full-service bike rentals for the full semester that would be really awesome because then you wouldn't have to buy a bike and you wouldn't have to worry about renting it for only two weeks," Theys said. "You could have it for the whole semester."
With all of these forms of public transportation in place it is understandable why Bentzin believes she can have scope one 100 percent mitigated emissions by 2025, but said scope three with commuters and business travel are more of a challenge.
Bentzin hopes that with all of these public transportation opportunities that more commuters decide to take the options that are offered to them, but she understands that public transportation cannot reach everyone. For this, she hopes to use carbon offsets.
"They are brokers, we pay them and they give us a certificate that says we bought wind power, for example, and we reduced this much carbon," Bentzin explained. "Carbon offsets are great if you have the money but, for now, we want to do everything we can through the environment."
Some students, like Theys, commute not because they want to, but because they have to. Theys and her parents came to a compromise after she lived in the dorms last year. Due to the high price of living on campus her parents would buy her a brand new Volkswagon Rabbit if she lived at home the rest of her three years at ASU.
"It was a lot cheaper for me to stay at home as a student," Theys said. "If I stayed at home then I got to get a car and I got a better deal out of getting a car than an apartment in my four years of college."
Another way to get commuters into Tempe would be to start providing more affordable on-campus housing. Theys is not the only commuter: U.S. News and World Report states that 79.9 percent of students live off campus. Bentzin said they have not focused on working with housing, nor is it under her radar.
Theys agrees that she would absolutely live on campus if she had the opportunity and money to do so.
But scope three doesn't just focus on commuters, it also tries to tackle faculty that travel on business, incorporating jet fuel and possible gas once arriving at the business location. ASU hopes to update its technology for video conferencing in order to keep from traveling via plane, thus allowing for meetings to be conducted virtually in the Tempe offices.
"We heard from our research that if we had more trustworthy technology people would be willing to travel less," Bentzin said.
They are also offering an optional two-year plan as a pilot that will become mandatory soon after. A carbon assessment would be done based on the carbon emissions released from each travel. Once that amount is calculated, it will be reinvested in the university's transportation system. Coming full circle with the reduce, reuse and recycle idea.
Transportation isn't just helping to reduce carbon emissions though, according to Bentzin. Having people in and around campus helps to create more of a community base within in the university.
"We're trying to create a more efficient way of people connecting to each other," Bentzin said. "We're trying to create a campus community."
• Emily Pomilio is a student at The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Arizona State University.