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Students wait at the UBC bus loop in Vancouver last November. (File photo) (Jeff Vinnick for The Globe and Mail)
Students wait at the UBC bus loop in Vancouver last November. (File photo) (Jeff Vinnick for The Globe and Mail)

Ask Joanne

Commuter campus: the road more travelled Add to ...

I’m going to a university this fall described as a “commuter campus.” What’s the definition and what does this mean for students? – Mel in Toronto

A typical commuter campus is one where all or a significant portion of students live off-campus, although many post-secondary institutions have a combination of students who commute and those who live in residence.

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There are many reasons students may choose to live away from campus, including cost savings, or off-campus family and work commitments.

Minimizing travel and maximizing time on campus can be a challenge. The good news is many Canadian institutions are dedicated to improving the quality of life and advancing transportation options for commuters.

At the University of British Columbia (UBC), for example, which has approximately 10,000 student beds on campus and a total university population of around 48,000 students, there has been a shift in the way people choose to travel to and from campus.

“Based on 2012 data, right now we have about 140,000 trips being made in and out of our campus on a daily basis, so it’s a busy place,” says Carole Jolly, director of transportation planning at UBC. “Of that, we have 75,000 trips on transit daily compared to 48,000 vehicle trips. So we have 23 per cent less auto traffic to and from campus since 1997, and 15 per cent of that is in single-occupancy vehicle traffic. And we’ve seen a 300 per cent increase in transit ridership since 1997.”

Many schools have implemented discount transit pass and car-share programs in their transportation demand management.

“I think the huge transformation has really been about the U-Pass program. U-Pass is a common program that lots of post-secondary institutions have access to across North America,” says Jolly. “U-Pass has been instrumental in the way that people get to and from the campus, and that was implemented in 2003. It’s an essential program that provides equitable access to transit across the region. It has really played a key role in driving up that transit mode share.”

Post-secondary institutions such as York University and Seneca College have also helped reduce single-occupancy car trips to their campuses by partnering with Toronto’s Smart Commute program.

“We promote all sustainable modes of transportation – anything that doesn’t involve someone driving alone, so that includes car pooling, public transit, cycling, walking, even – not so much in the university context but working from home, tele-working, and more web conferencing,” says Janet Patterson, program co-ordinator with Smart Commute. “We promote all the options and all the ways that organizations can foster different travel behaviour to get cars off the road and reduce stress, and have a positive impact on the environment. In a lot of cases people save money, too.

“If the organization is not a Smart Commute member, they can still use our ride-matching service, Carpool Zone. It’s open to the public at no charge,” says Patterson.

On-campus shuttles operate between the four main Seneca campuses, and at York between the Keele and Glendon campuses. Additional priority parking spaces for car pooling have also been installed.

At UBC, rapid transit has also played a role in ensuring easy and accessible transport for students. “One of the challenges we’re facing right now is the ability for the existing service to meet that growing demand and so a rapid transit connection all the way to UBC is one of the things UBC is certainly interested in pursuing right now as part of a regional transportation discussion,” says Jolly.

Contact the transportation services department at your chosen institution and you may discover even more travel alternatives. You’ll want to spend as little time as possible worrying about commuting, and the rest getting the most from your educational experience.

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