ASU expands transportation survey for more student input

ASU Parking and Transit Services is expanding a county-mandated transportation survey to all students to help find ways to improve transportation options around the four campuses and reduce carbon emissions overall.

Maricopa County requires the University to administer the survey each year as part of the county’s Trip Reduction Program, but ASU also uses the results to analyze its transportation offerings.

POLLUTION PROBLEMS: Traffic backs up Interstate-10 through Tempe during the afternoon rush hour on Monday. A new state initiative is working to reduce traffic and pollution in the city. (Photo by Lisa Bartoli)

The intercampus shuttles, Flash buses that circle the Tempe campus, the U-Pass program that provides reduced light rail and bus fares, and reserved carpool parking spaces are all direct results of past surveys, said Judi Nelson, PTS program manager for commuter options.

“Even though we’re giving the survey because we’re mandated to, a lot of these services … come about because of student interest, which is indicated in the survey,” she said.

The county’s Trip Reduction Program requires all schools and businesses with at least 50 students or employees of driving age to administer the survey and implement strategies to reduce single occupancy vehicle trips to their sites.

The goal is to determine current commuting patterns and advise employers based on the trends, TRP research analysis supervisor Phil Cummings said.

“The survey just asks what your schedule is — whether you work five days a week, the time, and how many days you travel to that site, and then how many miles your drive is,” he said. “That helps us determine what we can do for the employers to reduce some of the single occupancy vehicle trips.”

Cummings also said universities often have many options for reducing trips and that doing so can directly benefit students.

“You have quite a parking issue over there (at ASU), so it would certainly help that,” he said.

ASU has also added a question to the standardized state survey about which campuses students attend, in order to better meet their needs.

This year, the survey will be available online in order to reach more students than in the past, when paper surveys were administered to a set number on each campus.

“We made an arrangement with [the] county, and this year we’re doing it online,” Nelson said. “All that data then comes back to us.”

Staff members will still be required to fill out a paper survey because of county regulations.

Both versions are available through Friday.

In addition to increasing effective transportation services, the Trip Reduction Program will also help reduce vehicle emissions and move the University toward carbon neutrality.

Industrial engineering junior Andrew Latimer, a member of the Center for Student Sustainability Initiatives at ASU, said trip reduction is key to reaching this goal.

“It’s an important initiative for the University to take because in our carbon neutral action plan we are committed to being completely carbon neutral, which includes commuters to campus, by 2035,” he said. “We have to start working now toward reaching that goal.”

Latimer also said emissions can have health ramifications, so TRP gives the University an opportunity to make a difference in that respect.

“It’s also important from a student perspective because the air quality in Phoenix isn’t all that great to begin with … and we have somewhere around 20,000 vehicles on campus every day,” he said.

However, chemistry professor Thomas Cahill said the relationship between vehicle emissions and health is complex, and cars can’t be solely blamed for poor air quality or the associated health problems.

“People have done emission samples and they contain known carcinogens, so we know some of the things that are coming our of vehicles are carcinogenic. That’s not in debate,” Cahill said. “What’s not very clear is if the ambient concentrations of these things in the air are high enough to cause problems. It does stand to reason if there are carcinogens in vehicle emissions, having it in the air and having it breathed in isn’t good.”

Latimer said ASU has already made progress in reducing carbon emissions and single occupancy vehicle trips, and he hopes to see more in the near future.

“We are among the most aggressive universities in the country in pushing toward that,” he said. “We’re looking at ways of targeting this in really innovative and socially engaging ride-sharing programs.”

Reach the reporter at keshoult@asu.edu