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Student Wins Sustainability Competition with Carpool Concept

In the spring semester, The Sustainability Council at Saint Peter’s University under a grant from the Independent College Fund of New Jersey (ICFNJ) hosted a sustainability competition. Students were asked to submit entries that related to the theme “Green is the New Blue: Creating a Sustainable Peacock Campus.” Alexis O’Callohan ’19, a biology major, won the competition with her idea for a commuter ride share program.

Q. What inspired you to start researching carpool options?

A. I would drive to school and I would see others in the cars next to me who were going to the same class as me. I knew it was a good idea for practical reasons, such as it would be easier to find parking, but I also knew it would help cut down on carbon emissions if there were less cars on the road. Dr. Brandy Kluthe (assistant professor of biology) encouraged me to pursue my idea and turn it into a project.

Q. Tell me about your projects:

A. The project aims to help reduce the carbon footprint of commuters on campus. I distributed a survey to commuters to gauge their interest in carpooling. Commuting accounted for 3,917 metric tons of carbon emissions in 2017. A possible solution to this issue would be to invest in the organization of a campus-wide carpooling service.

Q. Why would an organized carpool on campus be beneficial?

A. 65 percent of full-time students at Saint Peter’s are commuters. An organized carpool would not only cut down on carbon emissions but would serve a variety of other benefits such as making friends, cutting down on gas costs, relieving some of the University’s parking issues and lessening traffic in the area.

Q. Are there some examples of this working on other campuses?

A. Yes! Many universities have pioneered in offering extensive carpool options for students.

Q. What insights to a carpooling service did the survey you conducted provide?

A. From the survey, I learned that most people take a car to campus, others take public transportation, ride their bikes, walk or live on campus. The survey led to the conclusion that most commuters are dependent on single-occupancy vehicles (SOV). From the survey, 21.3 percent indicated that they were interested in carpooling and 52.3 percent were open to the idea. Despite most commuters never carpooling, there is a great deal of potential for ridesharing based on survey takers’ interest, as well as the geographic overlap of reporting members.

Q. What were some concerns the students had and how would you address them?

A. The most common concerns students voiced regarding carpooling were focused on social interactions/potential conflicts. In addition, students polled high for preferring carpooling only with “closest friends.” Students were also concerned over whether or not carpool permits would be of reduced price.

Students voiced concerns about carpooling with “weirdos,” people being late, and the schedules not being compatible. I think that most of these issues can be addressed and solved. The carpoolers can compromise on hours if need be. Carpooling gives you more time to connect with people on campus or to study if you have to stay late or get to campus early because of the other members of the carpool. It’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Q. What were some incentives that would encourage students to carpool?

A. 76 percent would be motivated by saving money on gas and toll expenses, whereas 66 percent would be interested in saving money on parking. Other incentives included easing parking congestion on campus, easing traffic congestion around the area and 72 percent were influenced by the fact that it would reduce their carbon footprint. Overall, students were interested in a guaranteed space for carpoolers and financial incentives.

Q. Any last thoughts?

A. I think carpooling would encourage students to be more engaged. I think revitalizing the Carpool Club that hosted alluring events would get more people involved and then more members of the campus community would be interested in carpooling. Carpooling would foster relationships and then those people would be more involved in campus life. It would connect and help solve multiple issues on campus.

Lastly, the other universities who are already engaged in a carpool process should record and share their data so that universities, like Saint Peter’s, who are new to carpooling can create the best experience possible.