Commuting that makes cents

Cal Poly students, faculty and staff can ride SLORTA buses (pictured above) to surrounding cities in San Luis Obispo County. They can also take SLO Transit for stops in the City of San Luis Obispo for free by swiping their PolyCards. -Dylan Honea-Baumann/Mustang Daily

This is the first of two installments of Commuting that Makes Cents, which explains alternative transportation options available to faculty, staff and students.

Faculty and staff looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint and save a little cash can benefit from services offered through Cal Poly Commuter and Access Services (CAS).

The program is funded solely through parking fines. The program offers a variety of alternatives and incentives for students, faculty and staff to commute to and from school without being a single occupant in a vehicle.

In addition, CAS helps students from out of the area figure out how they’re going to commute between Cal Poly and their homes. Susan Rains has been the CAS coordinator since 2004 and said the amount of people using the service has gone up significantly since then. Rains is also one of many staff members who uses an alternative mode of transportation to commute to and from campus.

On a day-to-day basis, Rains sets people up with carpool permits and finds alternative and affordable ways to get to campus. She said students generally have more immediate needs related to commuting, while staff and faculty typically have more long-term needs.

“We just want to make things easy for people to get around without a car,” Rains said.

Cal Poly’s CAS started as an agreement between Cal Poly and the San Luis Obispo County Air Pollution Control District to reduce air pollution in the early ’90s, Rains said. Since then, the service has been readily available on campus.

“We are pretty heavily advertised when people first get a job here,” Rains said.

And the advertising has been wildly successful, according to Rains. In the past 10 years, the use of the bus has more than doubled and the use of bicycles has close to quadrupled, Rains said.

“But at the same time, our revenue has gone down because people aren’t filling in the parking spaces anymore,” she said.

Rains said it’s great when more people use alternative modes of transportation to get to school; however, as the amount of parking fines go down, it’s harder to keep the program going.

One major reason less faculty and staff are parking on campus is because they’re using the Rideshare Registry Program. Faculty and staff who join Cal Poly’s Rideshare Registry Program (RRP) can receive 15 cents for each day they commute to school in any way other than a single-occupant in a car. Another benefit of the RRP is that members can have a free ride home if they have an emergency.

“The main focus of Rideshare Registry is to reduce the amount of pollutants and congestion, and to reduce single-occupant commuters on the road,” she said.

Rains said there is really no distance requirement. Individuals in the program could live a half mile away from campus and still get the 15 cents. The only thing members have to do is submit online or paper reports to CAS that include the days they used an alternative mode of transportation. She said they can choose to use one of the alternatives to commute to school once a week or every day; it’s just an incentive.

“It’s not huge, but it’s accumulated quarterly,” Rains said. “People can get like $8 to $10 a quarter and it goes to their Campus Express account.”

There are also drawings for faculty and staff who are members of the RRP. The winners of the drawings receive $25 they can use toward Campus Dining.

And this is all done to minimize the amount of cars on campus on a regular basis, Rains said.

One popular way RRP members commute to school is carpooling. A benefit of carpooling is eligibility to apply for a carpool sticker that allows them to park at one of 14 available carpool spaces on campus.

Katie Schrempp, financial aid systems analyst, has been carpooling to Cal Poly with her husband, who also works at Cal Poly. They’ve been commuting approximately 16 miles to campus from Atascadero together since Schrempp became a staff member in 1996.

“We purposely made sure our schedules were the same to reduce traffic on campus, to reduce how much we spend on gas and parking, and to reduce emissions and that kind of stuff,” Schrempp said.

Schrempp joined the RRP after finding out about the incentive.

“I’m a nice wife, and I do (the RRP paperwork) for my husband,” she said. “Also, it’s kind of easy when it’s just the two of us, I know what days we were sick or what days we go on vacation, so it’s kind of easier to just do it at the end of the month.”

Sometimes their neighbor, a professor at Cal Poly as well, carpools with them to school. Plus, they will occasionally pick up friends that are at the bus stop on campus and drop them off at their cars, which are located one exit short of where they have to go to get home.

“I feel like it makes life easier,” Schrempp said. “I get to have fun talking to people on the way to work and home, and I know that I’m helping with parking on campus and helping with the emission standards, making a cleaner environment. I will continue to do it until I retire.”

And when her husband, who is older, retires, Schrempp said she plans to commute to campus by vanpool, another service offered through Commuter and Access Services.

Vanpool has been around for 30 years, which was before CAS even existed, Rains said.

“It started as more of an employee convenience,” Rains said. “Even in the ’80s, if you’re coming from far, you’re spending a lot on gas relatively.”

Vanpool is for faculty and staff who commute from parts of the county outside of the City of San Luis Obispo.

People who take the vanpools also have the option of bringing a bike because the vanpools have bike racks. They can use their bikes to commute around town between classes.

The cost of vanpooling ranges from $40 to $100 a month depending on the distance from the pick-up point to campus, Rains said.

Despite being advertised mainly through word-of-mouth, the program is mostly self-supporting. Debi Wages, the University Housing administrative support coordinator, found out about the vanpooling service in September 2007 when she first started working for Cal Poly Corporation. She uses it regularly as a Rideshare Registry Program member.

“The vanpool is nicer than taking the bus,” Wages said. “There’s cushier seats, and you kind of develop relationships and networking with other individuals on campus, so you have a little bit more of a closeness to them, and it’s just a lot nicer of a ride. You don’t have to fight for a seat.”

The vanpool Wages is a part of departs from Templeton and currently has 13 people using it. Wages is one of the three people who drives the van and said it’s beneficial because drivers only have to pay half the rate that passengers pay.

The van can hold up to 15 people, but Wages said they prefer to keep it at a maximum of 14 people to prevent overcrowding.

“The more people you have on the van, the lesser the rate you have to pay,” Wages said. “It’s beneficial for everyone to encourage people to ride the vanpools because the rate tends to go down. When you’re coming from the far areas, you tend to pay more, so when you have more riders, it makes it less of a burden. The bus is ultimately cheaper but you get what you pay for.”

Wages recommends that faculty and staff who live outside of the City of San Luis Obispo vanpool whether or not they have a car.

“The amount of money that you can save on repairs and stuff on your car, makes it really worth it.” Wages said. “Even though the Rideshare Registry Program only gives you 15 cents, it’s still something, and I would encourage people to do it. It’s nice to have when you’re on campus and you want to have a coffee. I bought a couple lunches off of it.”

There will soon be even more benefits for Rideshare Registry Program members during Fall 2012.

“October is Rideshare month, so I’ll be doing some kind of event for that,” Rains said.

Cal Poly RRP incentives are not offered to students, though. With the budgets the way they are, the 15-cent incentive will probably never be offered to students, Rains said, but regardless of students not being able to receive the 15 cents, there are still benefits for them to use alternative modes of transportation.

The second installment of “Commuting that makes cents will explain alternative transit options for students, from Zipcars to escort vans.