Universities' success in dramatically reducing single occupant vehicle (SOV) travel presents potentially useful models to be considered for applications through partnerships at other scales.
Volpe study identifies notable features of successful university strategies and ideas for how they might be considered by MPOs and partners in a wider regional, city, or business district.
Made Public Date


United States

Ridesharing, Technology, and TDM in University Campus Settings: Lessons for state, regional, and local agencies


A 2016 white paper produced by Volpe examines how university campus transportation departments are using new technologies and supportive polices to advance ridesharing and transportation demand management (TDM) as alternatives to driving alone to campus. Universities have a clear business need to hold the demand for parking spaces to a minimum so that scarce campus land can be put to more productive uses. Thus they have been compelled to innovate using different aspects of their limited authority to encourage affiliates of the university to rideshare, walk, bicycle, and use transit to reach campus. Other planning actors, like MPOs, State DOTs, cities, and BIDs share this aspiration to increase economic activity while reducing vehicle trips. This report discusses notable features of successful strategies employed by university transportation programs, and how they might hold lessons for other types of transportation planning agencies.

Lessons Learned

Notable features of successful university strategies and ideas for how they might be considered by MPOs and partners in a wider regional, city, or business district context are summarized below.

Active Parking Management

  • Use full lifecycle cost accounting in parking decision making. Because parking demand can present an impediment to growing universities, some have adopted practices that make the full lifecycle cost of providing parking transparent in decision making regarding campus facilities. By including the costs of providing parking in university transportation decision making – both the monetary costs of construction and ongoing maintenance, and the opportunity cost of not using that land for a more valuable purpose –these institutions have attempted to correct a hidden subsidy that favors automobile travel over other modes.
  • Practice Variable rate parking with subsidies for rideshare user. A common practice among the universities is to charge a lower rate for carpools than for single-occupant vehicles, and to provide free parking for vanpools. providing parking attendants in particularly busy lots, and employing new technology to provide drivers with better information about parking availability and to more easily provide incentives.
  • Use revenues and opportunity costs from parking to support alternative. Universities also employ pricing strategies like charging different rates for different parking areas based on demand, adjusting rates during busier times and providing parking attendants in particularly busy lots.
  • Use new technologies to make providing incentives easier, and to gather better data on parking utilization. Employing new technology to provide drivers with better information about parking availability and to more easily provide incentives. One example is parking applications which allow users to reserve and pay for parking spaces through their smartphones.

Social Marketing and Geographic Targeting

  • Enlist commuter clubs to promote programs and overcome trust barriers. With commuter clubs that link to university-based and common social media outlets, university programs can more easily reach their communities with announcements, and alerts, and also allows the users to see what social connections they might have with fellow riders.
  • Conceive games and contests to engage community members and incentivize non-SOV travel. UCLA, for example, offers members of its Bruin Commuter Club exclusive benefits related to commuting, and opportunities to participate in contests and other social activities with prizes. Stanford has a similar program and offers games that challenge members to use alternative modes of transportation or to commute to campus at off-peak times.
  • Use GIS to target messaging to specific neighborhoods, corridors, or community members with relevant characteristics. GIS and database technology can be used to target communications with members based on certain attributes like residential location, current mode choice, and other information volunteered during the sign-up process. This method of outreach makes it easier for university transportation programs to distribute information tailored to individuals who are most likely to find it beneficial. Identifying the origins of commuter trips using GIS and analyzing them in the context of other factors, such as the locations of recurring traffic congestion, can also help universities analyze which commuters might be most receptive to alternatives and target efforts to them.

Transit Agency Partnerships

  • Offer free or reduced fares for organization member. A common practice is to provide free or reduced fare transit passes to students and staff and even carpoolers, vanpoolers, and SOV drivers to encourage them to use transit occasionally. Universities often make it easier for commuters to do so by employing technology that combines the transit pass with a parking permit or university ID card.
  • Pilot new transit service to server organization member. Another way that universities have engaged in productive partnerships with transit agencies is by paying a portion of the cost of starting new pilot transit services. Stanford University found success with a recent program to pilot a peak-period bus service from the East Bay to campus. Prior to the partnership, Stanford operated a shuttle along this route, but the partnership with AC Transit is more efficient to operate and makes it easier for commuters to seamlessly integrate their commute with other transit trips.
  • Work together and share data to enhance planning and operation. A strong relationship with local and regional transit systems can also result in strategic influence for the university. For example, members of the UC Berkeley community are the largest single customer group using the AC Transit system. As a result, UC Berkeley has some influence over transit service planning decisions, and is regularly engaged as a key stakeholder for AC Transit.

Integrating Mobility Options into a Single Package

  • Have mode agnostic programs and incentives. With parking and peak-hour trips being the primary challenge faced by university transportation agencies, the critical goal is mode shift and the most important performance measure is the reduction in SOV trips to campus. Universities seek to reduce SOV trips through a coordinated package of services and subsidies, as opposed to focusing on a particular mode shift. UCLA, for example, has achieved similar SOV rates as transit-rich Downtown Los Angeles without a major high-capacity transit system serving it. It is able to do this through coordinated smart marketing of multiple transportation services within its community and active parking management.
  • Offer complementary services. For example, MIT subsidizes use of private regional bus services and provides local transit services through its own campus shuttle and through the EZ-Ride and M2 shuttles, all of which MIT affiliates may use free of charge. These systems provide important supplementary transit services which complement and fill gaps in the MBTA schedules.
  • Combine revenue generating activities like parking with provision of benefits to support alternatives to driving alone. Successful university programs offer a coordinated package of incentives and services to help commuters make the switch from driving alone. MIT has innovated in a particularly interesting way by providing monthly parking pass holders with a free public transportation pass for use on days when they do not need to drive – resulting in a four percent reduction in total annual vehicles parked on campus.

Regional, State, and Local Policies and Partnerships

  • Spur employer action to manage commuter transportation. The State of Washington has a Commute Trip Reduction law that applies to all major employers, requiring them to take steps to reduce single occupant vehicle trips. However, an agreement with the City of Seattle that predates that law led to the programs that UW has employed. Given UW’s experience, local governments which are homes for or adjacent to large campuses (e.g., university, hospital, employer HQ) may look to the UW/Seattle agreement as a flexible model for how they can encourage campus managers to adopt similar programs.
  • Simultaneously support environmental, congestion management, and economic development goals. MPOs, with State and local partners, may be interested in exploring the potential to use a policy instrument such as the General Use Permit as a TDM tool on a broader regional scale. Stanford’s General Use Permit, much expanded TDM program and expansion of the campus shuttle have saved Stanford $100 million in available real estate, eased traffic problems, and helped to meet its air quality and sustainability goals according to Stanford Parking & Transportation Services staff.

Ridesharing, Technology, and TDM in University Campus Settings: Lessons for state, regional, and local agencies

Ridesharing, Technology, and TDM in University Campus Settings: Lessons for state, regional, and local agencies
Publication Sort Date
McCoy, Kevin; James Andrew; and William Lyons
Volpe Center

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Goal Areas

Focus Areas Taxonomy: