New UMD Ride-sharing Program Will Include Employees

The fall 2009 semester promises a more effective carpooling system for University of Maryland faculty and staff, thanks to campus collaboration by a team of UMD students, the Office of Sustainability, the Department of Facilities Management, and the Department of Transportation.

Although the university’s Department of Transportation (DOTS) established an online student carpooling system in 2002, the program did not prove efficient, especially for establishing faculty and staff carpools.

To make the system more accessible, Amy Hudson, Sam Miller, Tiffany Yang, and Liangbi Zu (Team College Park CarPooling, or CP2) researched employee’s transportation needs in the Facilities Management Department during the fall 2008 semester. “We narrowed the scope down to just include Facilities Management employees because they have the most diverse population of wages and hours worked, so that if we could create a system that would work for them, we could probably easily adapt it to the entire campus,” says Hudson. UMD has about 850 such employees.

While the old system made carpooling easier for UMD students, it didn't work for faculty or staff. It is hoped that new online system will change all that. (Leslie Wells)
Survey results indicated employees worried most about arriving to work on time. Employees also wanted to see a program that would be cost-effective, flexible for minor schedule changes, and able to match riders based on smoking preferences. Most employees who said they would consider using the program hoped to save money through carpooling. Others expressed interest only if carpooling offered attractive incentives and a convenient form of transportation.

The team investigated existing online carpooling sites to determine what features they wanted to include. Hudson explains, “Aesthetics–how the website was laid out–and ease of use and navigation were the main priorities. Why would people come back to a site or rely on it if it was too complicated?”

Keeping in mind the costs associated with advertising, site maintenance, and initial program implementation, Team CP2 presented DOTS staff with recommendations to assist in designing the new program at the close of the semester in early 2009.

According to DOTS’ Nicola Corbin, the team’s most useful recommendations introduced the university to several carpooling companies including GreenRide, which offers functionality in line with the team’s desired features. The company could supply the carpooling website for the school and provide additional components such as a matching tool, carbon footprint calculator and printable maps.

GreenRide has proven effective at the University of Florida, which implemented the site in January 2007. Hudson says, “No schools had a very effective self-created and maintained carpooling site for faculty or the general population, and we thought it would be an innovative way for the university to both utilize the unique strengths of its students, staff, and faculty, and to bring everyone more involved and invested into the success of the program.”

Heather Lair of the Office of Sustainability says the university’s previous carpooling system, which was discontinued following the spring 2008 term, lacked user-friendliness and provided only minimal information about potential ride-sharers. She hopes the new design will be less static and allow users to more effectively match with suitable carpool riders. At the time of publication, DOTS remains responsible for creating and implementing the new carpooling system.

Other universities have encouraged participation with strong incentive programs which offer reserved prime parking spaces, discounts, coupons, and gift certificates, according to Toor and Havlick’s Transportation & Sustainable Campus Communities. Using a similar model, UMD intends to offer a 15 percent discount off parking permits to carpool participants, Corbin says. She notes that due to current economic circumstances, discounted parking permits are likely to be the only incentives offered at the start of the program in the fall.

Corbin does not expect the program to lead to immediate or drastic carbon dioxide emissions reductions, but thinks the program will be popular, since students sometimes still try to register for the old, currently non-existent program. The important thing is that it encourages individuals consider alternative forms of transportation, she says. “It will help to make a dent and train the mind.”

Published: April 14, 2009