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Step Off the Gas

Brian Stauffer

By Michael Peña

At Stanford, getting to work is more interesting than ever—and potentially more lucrative as well.

The University features an array of incentive programs to encourage employees to use alternative transportation. Take the one devised by the Stanford Alumni Association. Every day that a staffer commutes to work via bicycle, train, bus, carpool, camel—any way other than driving alone during rush hour—he or she may submit an entry for a bimonthly prize drawing. Dozens of SAA folks have won prizes ranging from $100 to $2,000 in the lottery, dubbed “Wheels of Fortune.” (Recently, the largest prizes were divided into $500 increments to spread the wealth.) Launched in 2005, funded by the provost's office, the program has been emulated by other units around campus.

“At least four individuals have personally told me that they switched from driving solo to taking the train and would never go back,” as a result of the program, says Brian Chan, SAA's senior director of business and financial affairs. He estimates the percentage of solo motorists among SAA staff has dropped from 60 percent to “around 25.”

Stanford literally pays some employees to leave their cars at home. Last year, Parking & Transportation Services gave up to $216 to each Stanford commuter who did not buy a parking permit. Ongoing drawings for these Commute Club members award everything from iPods to romantic getaway packages. In addition, University employees who do not live on campus and meet other basic eligibility requirements can request passes for free rides year-round on Caltrain and Valley Transportation Authority buses and light rail.

Stanford also has partnered with AC Transit, securing free, WiFi-equipped shuttles for employees who live in the East Bay. Prospective carpoolers may enter themselves into a ride-matching database customized for Stanford use. Finally, there is the ubiquitous Marguerite shuttle, with free service all over campus and to and from nearby shopping centers and transit hubs. Its 34 buses all run on biodiesel fuel.

Stanford has a vested interest in keeping its car traffic down. The General Use Permit that governs University growth, issued by Santa Clara County in 2000, mandates “no net new commute trips” over a baseline level set in 2001. If Stanford misses that target, it must pay for costly improvements to designated intersections.

Whatever their motivation, many more Stanford employees are getting to and from work without their cars. The percentage that drive to work alone has dropped from 72 percent in 2002 to 52 percent in 2007—compared to a national drive-alone rate of 77 percent in 2005.

“It's a credit to the more than 6,000 Stanford faculty, staff and students who regularly use alternative transportation,” says Brodie Hamilton, director of Parking & Transportation Services. “It also says a lot about Stanford's decision to make a significant investment in sustainable commutes as the right thing to do for our campus, the community and the environment.”

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