Transportation Solutions for College Students Issues, Challenges, Help & Resources

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Patrick Kneib Director of Business Development Read bio

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Shannon Lee Read bio

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.

8 Reasons Why Getting to School Can be Hard

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.

Student Transportation Solutions

It’s apparent there are some serious issues with vehicles on campus, and it’s understandable why some schools limit them. But there are plenty of solutions, and some of them are becoming quite popular among students who need a way around. Same as above, but let’s talk solutions.

This is by far one of the most favorable options out there. A college that offers a good public transportation system – whether because it has created its own or because it’s close to a large city with a well-established transit program – can be a wonderful boon for students on every level. An example of doing this well is University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where Chapel Hill Transit and Triangle Transit are free to ride. Public transportation saves money, helps the environment, relieves congestion, provides ample opportunity to get to the most essential locations and might even be discounted for students.

Some students might have the option of choosing to live on campus. Though this might be more expensive for some than living off-campus, financial aid or work study might fill in the gaps well enough to make it financially feasible. Those who live on campus and can walk to classes will save a great deal of money in vehicle expenses, including maintenance and gas, which can also help even the financial scales.

Companies like Uber and Lyft are there to help individuals get where they need to be, including trips to school. With so many drivers out there that use these services to make money, there is bound to be someone in the local area who will be willing and able to carry students to campus. Splitting the cost with a few friends going in the same direction can make the trip more affordable for everyone.

Family and friends might be more than happy to help out, especially if they are headed that way regardless – think a commute to work that takes them right past the campus. Be aware, however, that getting dropped off and picked up at hours that don’t really suit your schedule might be required to take advantage of this option, and they might also want you to chip in a bit for gas.

If other students live in the same area and are headed to the college on the same day, carpooling is a perfect solution. This does involve a delicate balance of deciding who drives on which days, how gas money is split up and the like, but it can work out quite well. Don’t have anyone to carpool with? Talk to your school about creating a carpool program, such as the goCarpool options at UCDavis. Learn more about the sharing economy and how it can help college students.

It’s entirely possible that the school doesn’t realize so many students are struggling with transportation. If that seems to be the case, take the problem to the campus student government and start a petition to get more transportation options. This route might take a long time – after all, many a good idea has died a slow death in committee – but at least it will get the problem on the radar of those who might be able to help.

Need help finding parking? You’ve got an ally for that. Instally (a blend of “instant” and “ally”) helps students find parking rental spaces at the University of Nevada. East Tennessee State University added a parking function to its mobile app that helps students pinpoint one of 2,750 spaces on campus. The Parkmobile app, available at 38 colleges and universities (and counting), allows students to find and pay for their space. These are just a handful of the many app options out there.

Depending upon how close a student lives to the campus, riding a bike to class might be an excellent option. Not only does it provide great exercise and lessen congestion on the roads, it can allow for the freedom of going to and from class on their own schedule, not one based on public transit routes. And many colleges encourage bikes for transport by providing ample space to park and lock the bike or dedicated bike lanes; the University of Wisconsin-Madison takes it further with free tune-ups and repair supplies through the University Bicycle Resource Center.

The Ultimate Transportation Solution: Online School

When it comes to transportation, no one has a shorter commute to college than those who opt for fully online courses. Online programs are just what they sound like – full educational programs that are delivered through the internet. Some schools offer programs that never require a student to set foot on campus, which means transportation becomes a moot point. And it’s important to remember that an online degree from an accredited institution is just as accepted as a degree earned at a brick-and-mortar institution.

Even if a student chooses a traditional college experience, online learning can still help with their transportation bottom line. Some schools allow students to take courses either on campus or online; those who take even one online class per semester can cut down on the time they must be on campus.

For instance, a student might be able to schedule classes so that they are on campus only on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, then stay home and work on their online courses during the other days. Not going to campus as often could allow them to choose a cheaper parking option or share a ride with someone on the days they must go into a classroom.

Getting Around School

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.

Issues with getting around campus

Inclement weather

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.

Long distances between buildings

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?

Challenges for disabled students

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.

Taking care of necessities

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.

Getting out of town

Need to go to a friend’s wedding across the country? Get home in the event of a family emergency? Those who attend ultra-urban campuses might solve this with a simple walk to the nearest train station, but those in more rural might face serious issues when trying to get away from campus on short notice.

Potential Solutions

From the Expert

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.

  • Many students face transportation dilemmas, from not having a vehicle to not being able to afford a parking pass. What are some out-of-the-box solutions for students who need cheap transportation to school?

    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.

  • What are some things college students should keep in mind when using services like Zipcar or ride-shares like Uber?

    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.

  • When using shuttles or other forms of college-provided transportation, are there any caveats or etiquette students should keep in mind?

    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.

  • Anything you'd like to add about transportation for college students?

    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.

Additional Resources

  • 101 Bike Maintenance Tips Every Cyclist Should Know

    Thinking about buying a bike for riding to class? These maintenance tips will keep things rolling right along.

  • BestParking

    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.

  • Bird

    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.

  • Can You Live Without a Car?

    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.

  • Costs to Consider Before Bringing Your Car to Campus

    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.

  • LimeBike

    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.

  • Parker

    An app that allows anyone to find open parking spaces, including those spaces that are ADA compliant.

  • Vehicles for Change

    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.

  • Working Cars for Working Families

    This is another promising service that helps deserving families afford a vehicle.

  • Zipcar

    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.

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