More students seeking other ways to travel

Jim Myers

Most students are familiar with the hassle of finding a parking space, but soon the problem may shift to finding a seat on the bus.

With gas prices skyrocketing over recent months, the country has seen a trend towards less driving, and UA students are no exception. Many students are choosing to forego driving to class and opt for a more economical means of transportation such as riding the bus or biking to school.

“”Our costs have definitely gone up, but ridership has also increased,”” said Kandy Young, a Sun Tran employee. “”And a big part of that has to do with gas prices.””

The average cost of gas in Tucson is $3.74 per gallon, according the American Automobile Association, 14 cents lower than the current national average of $3.88 per gallon. Although the price of gas continued to steadily decline this week after peaking earlier in the summer, many students continue to be attracted to alternatives to driving to campus.

“”I started riding Sun Tran last semester when gas prices really started to get bad,”” said John Salazar, a physiology senior. “”I plan on riding the bus to school exclusively next year.””

Sun Tran caters to student commuters with the U-Pass program, which gives discount semester ($70), school year ($112) and calendar year ($156) passes to students, with their standard annual pass costing $275. The discount is made possible by subsidies the UA provides Sun Tran in an effort to encourage the use of public transportation.

The university also offers the Park and Ride program, which lets students park in off-campus lots and then take the CatTran shuttle to campus. In addition to saving a little extra gas, permit prices for Park and Ride lots are considerably lower at $153 per year, while on-campus lot and garage permits can be as high as $518 per year.

Biking to campus is another alternate means of transportation used by students, and the industry has reportedly increased over the past year. According to a study from the National Sporting Goods Association, the national bicycle industry grew from $5.8 billion in 2006 to $6.1 billion in 2007. The average price of a bicycle was $157, although the average price in department stores, where 77 percent of the bikes were sold, was $77.

“”Business has gone up a lot recently,”” said Ralph Philips, owner of Fair Wheel Bicycles on 6th Street, south of campus. “”More and more people in this city are riding bikes.””

Although bus and bike sales are up, many students who live off-campus still prefer the convenience of driving to school. However, an increasing number of students are trying to offset the costs by carpooling.

The UA Carpool Club is an organization designed to promote the use of the Carpool application on facebook.com, which currently has over 5,000 monthly users. The application was designed by two UA alumni and sets up carpool groups to campus, around Tucson, and even to other places around the country.

“”I first saw it while browsing applications on Facebook,”” said Tammy O’Neal, a chemistry junior. “”I’ve used it to get rides to campus, but you can also use it to set up rides to other places outside Tucson. In a way, it’s kind of like organized hitchhiking.””

The university also offers the Carpool Parking Program, which caters to carpoolers by offering parking permits to exclusive carpool lots. There are six lots around campus available to commuters with three or more passengers. The permit price for two of these lots is $303 per year, while the other four are $418 per year. All students registered for the permit only pay one price, although they have the option of registering multiple vehicles.

With all the transportation options students must weigh and decide on, many simply choose to circumvent the problem altogether by living on campus.

“”About 5,800 people currently live on campus,”” said Gabrieal Parker, a Residence Life employee. “”We have seen increased demand, but part of that has to do with the university enrolling more students.””