There’s no doubt that higher education is a powerful road to success. But what happens when the road is filled with potholes, impossible distance, broken-down vehicles, a lack of public transportation and other roadblocks. Many students have no problem getting into school, but they do have problems with getting there – literally. That’s why it’s so important to make sure each student has some reliable way of getting to where they need to be. This guide examines the often-overlooked problem of transportation woes for students, as well as the solutions that just might help make the road to higher education a bit easier to travel.
There are numerous reasons why getting to school can be tough for students. Understanding those reasons can illustrate just how important it is to find working, realistic solutions for those who need a reliable way to travel to where they need to be. Here are just a few of the reasons a student might struggle to get to class.
This is one of the most obvious issues, but it’s also one that gets overlooked. Many students live in dorms, a situation that obviously makes getting to class easier – however, the vast majority of undergraduate students are considered nontraditional and might often live off-campus, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s NCES. Though some lucky few might live close enough to easily walk to the campus, many others live too far to make that a feasible option.
Some cities are doing transportation right – such as St. Paul, Minnesota and Seattle, Washington – and students who choose to attend colleges in those cities can enjoy affordable, reliable and clean public transportation. But many areas have not-so-good public transport, if any at all. This makes it tough for students to get to school, as well as to the doctor, dentist, or even the grocery store.
Assuming a student has a reliable car, will they park it on campus? If so, get ready to pay up. For instance, parking at the University of Alabama can range from $75 for a motorcycle permit to a whopping $630 reserve permit, which allows commuters to park in all zones on campus. Those at Northern Arizona University feel the pain too, with parking that can cost up to $650 each year. At rates like that, students already on a tight budget might have to make the choice between buying a parking pass and paying the bills or buying textbooks.
Even if a student can afford a parking pass, there might not be ample parking available. This is especially true during times of inclement weather (such as when snow is being cleared) or when special events bring many more vehicles to the campus. Even if there is a parking space available for everyone who purchases a pass, that doesn’t guarantee that a space will be available where or when it’s needed.
Numerous campuses across the nation, such as Georgetown, are closed to cars. University of California, Davis hasn’t allowed vehicles on the 800-acre campus since 1967. As a result, the campus is flooded with bikes and pedestrians.
Princeton University does allow undergraduates to have cars on campus, but only under very specific circumstances – which makes the vast majority of students ineligible for pass. Other campuses might have extremely small parking garages and thus provide parking permits only to those who can prove significant need.
A rural college is usually in a town of less than 25,000 people and allows plenty of access to farms, woodlands and other natural areas. As a result, having a car on campuses like this is usually frowned upon. Besides that, there might not be enough parking for the vehicles students might want to bring, thanks to keeping so much of the area undeveloped.
To ease the traffic congestion on campus, some schools have raised their rates – for instance, the University of New England in Maine increased the cost of a parking permit from $90 to $300 to discourage freshmen from bringing cars to campus. And at some schools, such as the University of Wisconsin-Madison, students aren’t allowed parking permits at all. Instead, they are expected to walk, ride the bus or bike to class.
Let’s say that a student has no problem at all with getting to school. Perhaps they live in a dorm, or they are one of the lucky ones with excellent public transportation to get them to the campus. Issues with transportation don’t stop at the parking lot; in some cases, simply getting around the campus itself can be difficult, especially if that campus covers hundreds of acres and boasts dozens of buildings. Here are a few of the transportation issues that can take even dorm-dwelling students by surprise.
When serious weather strikes, nobody wants to be outdoors – but what if class starts in ten minutes and you’re on the other side of the campus from the classroom? Braving the thunder, lightning, wind and hail is too much to ask of anyone who values their safety. Intense heat, thunderstorms, piles of snow, the potential for tornadoes or torrential rains – all of these things are a problem for students who are always on foot.
Some campuses are enormous – so big that students are expected to drive from one building to another on campus, since it’s quite a long walk. But for those who don’t have a vehicle or can’t afford extra parking, simply driving around campus isn’t realistic. But what happens when your next class starts in five minutes but it’s a fifteen-minute walk to get there?
If it can be tough to walk between buildings that are so far apart, imagine trying to get there when dealing with physical challenges, such as using a wheelchair. This is especially true when dealing with the inclement weather. In addition, some accessible entrances might be difficult to find or use – for instance, the accessible entrance to the science building might be on the opposite side of your biology class, adding more time and effort to the commute.
Someone who lives on campus but doesn’t have a car might not have any problem getting around the campus itself, but what about the other things they need? A visit to the doctor or dentist, getting the necessities (such as toiletries and groceries), or even getting to the airport to fly home for the holidays can become a logistical challenge.
Bicycles are a wonderful way to get around campus. Most campuses offer bike lockers or secure bike racks for students on two-wheeled transportation. Those who choose to bike to class will need to brush up on the rules of the road, so to speak, invest in a good, sturdy U-lock and educate themselves on fixing flat tires and questionable brakes. Not ready for a bike of your own? The bike share program at University of Oregon is a great example of a school that provides bikes for students who don’t want the hassle of buying and maintaining their own.
A new trend in campus transportation is dockless scooters, such as those offered by LimeBike or Bird. These scooters are available at a variety of places across campus and town, where they are ready for the first person who picks them up with the mobile app. These get students across campus at a lower price (and with less hassle) than many ride share programs do.
Some colleges are all-in on the idea of shuttles to get students from one place to another. Boise State University is a great example, complete with mobile-friendly real-time maps that let students know exactly where the shuttles are. Want to go further than campus? Many shuttles make runs to area shopping malls and businesses. Those who want to get out of town for the holidays can take advantage of special airport shuttles, such as the shuttle from University of Kentucky to Blue Grass Airport.
Many schools offer buses that take students out of the local area to larger cities or attractions that are just too far to walk to. Take UC Davis, for example, where 48 buses are driven and conducted by students to get people to, from and across campus. There’s also the option of taking buses to the closest mass transit station; from there, it’s a short ride to the nearest Amtrak station.
It always helps to have a friend or two who can provide a ride from time to time. Just make sure to provide ample notice and offer to pay for gas. A little token of appreciation, such as a gift card to their favorite restaurant, is also a good idea if they are willing to drive a long way, such as taking you to the airport.
Not sure what your campus offers? Most schools will have a transportation page on their website, or you can call the transportation department to ask questions. Also look to student services, or even career services offices, to find information on how to get off campus if the need should arise. This page at UCLA is a good example of what you should be able to find for most schools on transportation.
There might be special programs in place for students with disabilities. The first step is to get in touch with the Student Disability Office, where they can point you in the right direction. This overview on transportation from the University of Chicago offers a sample of what might be available to students on other campuses as well.
Available at over 600 campuses, Zipcar is a great way to rent a vehicle without much hassle. Cars are available for rental by the hour or day, and can provide an excellent way to run errands, make doctor or dental appointments, or get to places a bit further out, such as museums, restaurants or airports.
Patrick Kneib, Director of Business Development for the TransPar Group of Companies, has a diverse background that includes experience in pupil transportation management, sales, consulting, banking, finance, systems implementation and systems integration. He has worked for the TransPar Group of Companies (TPGoC) since early 2010. Since then he has conducted dozens of assessments for school districts, colleges and universities, off-campus student housing communities and other organizations across the United States focusing on efficiencies, operations management, competitive bidding, routing effectiveness, systems implementation, and many other facets of student transportation.
The resources available to college students have grown substantially in the past several years with the proliferation of Uber and Lyft, among other ride sharing services. But these ride-sharing services, while supremely convenient on-demand services, still cost money. As a result, what may seem cheap to business travelers is not as affordable to college students.
Many colleges and universities, however, have traditionally offered tuition-included on-campus shuttle services that serve not only the organizations’ campuses but also nearby surrounding areas that typically contain university-owned and on rarer occasions university-affiliated off-campus housing not owned by the universities.
Additionally, more and more independently-owned off-campus properties are not only offering self-provisioned, rent-included shuttle services, but they are viewing this amenity as a differentiator within their industry. It is commonplace to see shuttle buses (wrapped with marketing graphics exemplifying the resident experience of a given property) frequenting college campuses and other nearby areas suited to meeting the needs of residents for that property, like: shopping districts, entertainment districts, sporting venues, grocery stores and pharmacies.
As has been covered more extensively as of late within the media, safety is a primary concern and particularly for female passengers and especially those female passengers that are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Additionally and as previously mentioned, a $5 Lyft ride to the bar or stadium a couple of miles away might not sound like much, but what cost $5 outside of peak times might cost as much as $20 during “surge pricing” times when the bars close down or when the game is over. Beyond safety and cost is the reliability of the service, and while ride-sharing services in large urban areas are typically fairly consistent due to larger pools of available resources, such is not the case for more suburban and rural locales.
Yes, great question. Most information for ride-sharing and shuttle services is available online via FAQ pages as well as Help links, in addition to smartphone apps that have similar available resources. Many available services (but not all) also offer real-time tracking capabilities, typically through apps like the SafeStop vehicle tracking app, that allow potential users to see if / when a shuttle or ride-sharing service is scheduled to stop at a given location or will arrive if previously ordered on-demand. One aspect of addressing preparedness for using these services is understanding that nothing is guaranteed (again, always read terms and conditions) and it’s always prudent to have a Plan B if your initial plan falls through.
Competition within this space is growing, and colleges, universities, and property owners catering to college students are all competing for students’ business. Transportation is an amenity that is crucial for some properties and less so for others, but in all cases it’s a potential differentiator that can not only save college students money but also set apart students’ experiences that by adding value beyond cost savings. College students and potential college students should include transportation as a consideration when choosing where to live and how much to pay for housing, since it’s not only a key service that will be needed but can also serve as a differentiator when considering their college experience.
Thinking about buying a bike for riding to class? These maintenance tips will keep things rolling right along.
This app is a good example of the smaller apps available on college campuses. Simply look for the space you need and the app guides you through the rest.
A scooter service that allows students to pay for only the time they use, the “Birds” can be found in various “Nests” across campus with the handy Bird app.
Thinking about giving up on four wheels? Many college students choose other options. This article looks at the pros and cons of having a car – or not.
How much will that car really cost? This article explores the reasons why it might be best for your pocketbook to leave the car at home.
Find a scooter at any one of the many “dockless” stations around campus, load the app and pay only for the time you use the scooter – often much less than rideshare services.
An app that allows anyone to find open parking spaces, including those spaces that are ADA compliant.
For some students in rural areas, a vehicle is the only way they will be able to get to class. This program helps low-income families by providing a reliable vehicle.
This is another promising service that helps deserving families afford a vehicle.
Available at over 600 campuses nationwide, this service allows students to use a car only when they need it, with no worries about insurance, maintenance and the like.