Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Record Update first

University eyes role in proposed commuter rail projects

Imagine relaxing and reading as you ride to work on a commuter train. Forget about rush hour traffic and rising gas prices. Employees hop off a train and take a bus to their campus destination.

This scenario — a proposed regional rail project — is one of the options Parking & Transportation Services (PTS) is exploring to help improve parking conditions on campus.

At their meeting today, regents heard a PTS update about the proposed commuter rail projects that would provide regional east-west and/or north-south rail service in Southeastern Michigan. The university will consider subsidizing fares for U-M students, faculty and staff should these rail systems become available.

“Our goal is to provide mobility options and choices by promoting other modes of commuting and travel,” says Hank Baier, associate vice president for facilities and operations. “We have an extensive array of services designed to meet the growing needs of the university.”

“Many employees find that vanpools or carpools work for them, and others are turning to motorcyles and mopeds to save gas and money,” says Baier. “Of course, walking and biking are the greenest ways to travel and that works for some people who live very close to campus.”

PTS has launched a “Go Blue, Think Green” campaign that suggests a variety of green commuter options to save money and help reduce the university’s environmental footprint.

Bus ridership for U-M and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (AATA) continues to grow, Baier told the regents.  MRide, a program established in 2004, allows U-M students, faculty and staff to ride all fixed-route AATA buses free of charge.

The U-M bus ridership brings federal dollars into the regional transportation system. Those funds plus the university’s payment to AATA results in the university subsidizing nearly the full fare for all U-M affiliated riders.

Baier adds, “We are very appreciative of our partnership with AATA.” 
“The number of U-M passengers on the AATA has nearly doubled since we started the program in 2004. The program has been great for both U-M and AATA,” Baier says.

In addition, U-M buses carried more than 5.9 million passengers in fiscal year 2009, up 26 percent since 2004.

Participation in the vanpool program, in which university-subsidized vans allow riders to share the cost of gasoline while commuting to work, saw tremendous growth with 531 riders as of June 30, nearly triple the number in 2004.

Baier also identified plans to incorporate the North Campus Research Complex (NCRC) — the former Pfizer campus — into the university’s parking and transportation system.

“For the short-term, the southern surface lots will be used as commuter lots, which will help serve general university and the U-M Health System’s growth. We will provide staff and visitor vehicle parking closer to the buildings as they become available.”

PTS still is assessing the type of bus service that may be needed for the NCRC. It is planning to add an NCRC stop on the Health System shuttle route.

“PTS will remain flexible in responding to ever-changing challenges and opportunities in our community,” Baier says. “Future initiatives include more choices for commuters as well as expansion of some parking facilities.”