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Holly Parker, director of sustainable transportation systems, is shown here with one of Yale's Zipcars. Over 500 campus community members have already signed up for the car-sharing program.

Adding zip to Yale’s sustainable transportation options

Holly Parker doesn’t own a car, so she is well accustomed to getting around using her bicycle or public transit, and occasionally renting one of the University’s new Zipcars.

Being car-less, she says, helps her to be more effective in her job as Yale’s first director of sustainable transportation systems. Her chief goal is to help reduce the University’s carbon footprint by encouraging alternative forms of travel to and around campus.

“I try out everything I encourage others to try: shuttle buses, Connecticut Transit buses, commuter trains and bicycling,” says Parker, who joined the University in the spring of 2007 after serving as manager of Harvard University’s Commuter Choice Program.

She especially hopes to reduce the number of employees who commute to and from campus alone in their cars. That mission is driven both by environmental concerns — reducing air pollution and greenhouse gases — and practical and economic considerations.

“As the University has expanded, parking space on the campus has become increasingly limited,” notes Parker. “Real estate is too valuable to use the very limited available space as parking lots, and the cost of constructing underground parking is upwards of $100,000 per space. So it simply makes sense to explore options for reducing the number of vehicles coming to campus.”

Parker acknowledges that changing the habits of those who are accustomed to driving in alone is a challenge. But she believes wholeheartedly that faculty and staff members will consider other modes of transportation if they are user-friendly and if employees’ needs and preferences can be met.

“We’re not going to take away from people the ability to park on campus, but we’re going to give them options that are better,” says Parker. “I think we’re going to slowly get to a place where the convenience and the cost-effectiveness of the options we promote for sustainable transportation — combined with the inconvenience of traffic congestion and the fact that parking over time will be less and less proximate to people’s workplaces — make those options the most attractive choices.”

Parker has already conducted a transportation survey of Yale’s approximately 20,000 employees and graduate students to find out how they commute and to learn what transportation options they find most appealing. She is currently exploring such issues as the infrastructure for bicycling to and around the University and improving the service of Yale’s own shuttle buses, and she is working with the City of New Haven and others on such matters as enhancing pedestrian and bicyclists’ safety. She is also examining various new incentives for employees to encourage more environmentally friendly modes of transportation.

New Haven, she says, has the advantage of being a small-sized city that is relatively easy to navigate on foot or by bicycle. In fact, notes Parker, Prevention magazine recently rated it 19th on its list of the nation’s “Best Walking Cities.”

But when walking to one’s destination is not possible, Parker hopes that Yale staff members and students will choose options that are the least harmful to the environment. “We have some really good stuff in place so far, and we’re getting better,” says Parker of the University’s alternative transportation initiatives.

A summary of some of the transportation-related options, resources and incentives currently available to Yale community members are:


Zipcar, the nation’s largest car-sharing program, was introduced on the campus in the fall of 2007. Zipcar has partnered with Yale to make nine fuel-efficient cars — including several Toyota Prius hybrids — available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at five campus locations. All faculty, staff and students over age 18 (over 21 for those with a valid foreign driver’s license) are eligible to join the Zipcar service. Membership costs $35 per year; the membership cost may be applied to rental costs during the first month after joining. Members receive Zipcards in the mail, and use these cards to make reservations online and to enter the car. The rental fee is $8.50 an hour and $65 a day.

“We already have over 500 members,” says Parker. “Zipcar is a concept that has been functioning well in Boston, New York and Washington, D.C. I’m its biggest fan. The reservation system is incredibly easy and streamlined, and it’s a great way for students to get around and for employees who come to campus using mass transportation to travel once they have arrived on campus.”

All of the University's shuttle buses are powered on ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel combined with 20% biodiesel fuel and use a particulate-trap technology that makes them even more earth-friendly.

Shuttle buses using biodiesel fuel

All of the shuttle buses that transport Yale affiliates around the campus and to its surrounding neighborhoods are powered on ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel combined with 20% biodiesel fuel. The shuttles are free for anyone with a valid Yale I.D., and all are equipped with bike racks and with GPS tracking devices, so bus travelers can find out the location of buses in real time on the Department of Parking and Transit website (www.yale.edu/shuttle). The buses travel in 10- to 20-minute intervals.

According to Parker, all of the Yale shuttles utilize a particulate-trap technology, making them even safer for the environment. Older buses are slowly being replaced.

Carpooling and public transportation benefits

To encourage carpooling to and from campus, the University offers parking permit fee discounts to those who use this method of transportation (60% off the regular fee for two-person carpools and a 75% discount for three- or more person carpools).

Individuals who carpool, vanpool or use public transportation also receive three one-day permits to park in Yale lots on days when they need to drive to campus.

The Office of Parking and Transit offers links on its website to GoLoco and NuRide, two online services that match individuals interested in carpooling or in sharing rides.

Guaranteed Ride Home Program

All Yale employees registered for carpools or vanpools are eligible for the University’s emergency ride home (or to a doctor’s office or hospital) benefit. The Parking and Transit Office (203-432-9790) provides reimbursement for a free ride from a local taxi company. Shore Line East riders receive the same benefit through Rideworks (800-ALL-RIDE or www.shorelineeast.com/guarride.htm).

Qualified Transportation Benefit Plan

This plan allows employees to pay for mass transit, including vanpool expenses, or for non-Yale parking with pre-tax dollars through payroll deduction. As per federal guidelines, employees designate a portion of their pre-tax income to pay for work-related transportation and parking expenses (up to $115 per month for mass transit/vanpool expenses and up to $220 per month for parking in non-Yale lots). Funds may be set aside for either or both of these programs. Application forms are available at www.yale.edu/parkingandtransit.

Yale Departmental Bike Program

The University plans to purchase 10 bicycles for use by 10 individual departments in this new pilot program funded by the Office of Sustainability. “The goal is to encourage Yale staff members who would not otherwise consider cycling to destinations on campus to do so,” says Parker. The bicycles are equipped with fenders, a covered chain, a rack/pannier system to carry items, a combination U-lock and a universal-sized helmet. Parker and her staff will work with each department to ensure proper bike maintenance and provide training, if necessary, among other procedures.

“Once people start seeing a bike with a department’s name on it in reflective lettering, I think they’ll encourage their own departments to sign up as well,” says Parker. The program may be expanded if it is deemed successful, she adds.

Further information on sustainable transportation initiatives is available at www.yale.edu/parkingandtransit or by contacting Parker at holly.parker@yale.edu.


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