It’s 1:00 p.m. on Monday afternoon, and a swarm of students gathers at the West Campus bus stop. During the gap between the late morning and early afternoon classes, hundreds of students embark on the 1.7-mile journey from West Campus to East Campus, and just as many go in the opposite direction. Duke’s fleet of more than 30 buses manages this route as well as several others across campus. These buses are an entrenched part of Duke’s culture. Riding the C-1 from East to West is as integral to the Duke experience as rooting for the Blue Devils.
Recently, the buses underwent a major upgrade. The Monday afternoon swarm can now board two articulated behemoths traveling between East and West. Each one resembles two normal-sized buses fused together with a big accordion in the middle. Up to 130 people can fit inside. The new buses, which started running in November 2011, are wrapped with colorful images promoting Duke’s sustainability efforts, especially its commitment to climate neutrality by 2024. As part of this commitment, Duke plans to cut the greenhouse gas emissions of its bus fleet by 50% by 2050. To help reach this goal, the new buses are hybrid-electric and much more fuel-efficient than their predecessors. Eight other new buses have been introduced as well. These ones aren’t hybrids, but they run efficiently on ultra low-sulfur diesel.
The upgraded buses are part of a larger effort at Duke to reduce emissions from transportation, which represent about 27% of the total emissions. Students are often surprised to learn that the large majority of transportation emissions are not from buses but from air travel and commuting. Less than 1% of Duke’s total emissions come from the bus fleet. However, when more people ride the bus, fewer people drive cars, and that’s where there are major reductions. I talked to Brian Williams, Duke’s transportation demand coordinator, about this effect.
“A lot of times, people get hung up on the fuel,” he said, “But really, the big impacts are when students are using the bus system instead of driving.”
Brian’s office, Duke Parking and Transportation, employs a variety of methods to get students to use alternative forms of transit. Brian is most excited about Transloc, an online tracking tool that allows riders to see where the buses are in real time. The new tool is available on the web and also as an iPhone app. In addition to making students’ lives easier, Transloc will help draw people out of their cars and onto the buses, which Brian believes will reduce even more emissions than the gains in fuel efficiency. Newly installed passenger counters on the buses might eventually verify this claim, but it’s still too early to tell.
Although Duke’s bus fleet stays mostly on campus, it’s also easy for students to travel off campus without owning a car. A program called WeCar allows students to reserve cars that can be picked up at several convenient locations on East, West, and Central. There’s a membership fee for joining the program (it’s currently waived for the first year) as well as an hourly and daily rate for using the cars. Most places in the Durham area are also accessible via public transportation. The Bull City Connector runs a free route between Duke and downtown Durham every 20 minutes, and many other routes are covered by Durham Area Transit Authority and Triangle Transit. With a card called the GoPass provided by Brian’s office, these routes are free to students.
In addition to promoting WeCar and the bus system, Brian is an advocate for human-powered forms of transportation, such as biking and walking. His office has made the campus more bike-friendly by creating new bike lanes and increasing the number of bike racks. Based on these changes, Duke has applied for certification as a Bicycle Friendly University through the League of American Bicyclists. Many students bring bikes to campus or buy them in Durham, but students can also rent bikes for up to three weeks through the Duke Bikes program. Brian himself is an avid biker, and he bikes to work almost every day.
Personally, I’ve never had a car at Duke, but transportation hasn’t been a problem for me. I’m a WeCar member, I ride the bus, and I just picked up my GoPass from Brian’s office. Like Brian, my favorite mode of transportation is a bike. It’s quick, convenient, and a lot of fun. Brian urges students to bring their bikes to campus, especially if those students are environmentally minded.
“For incoming freshmen,” he said, “The biggest impact you can make is bringing a bike instead of a car.”
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