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Putting a car-driven culture in reverse

If you've gotten the feeling lately that traffic in and out of the campus seems to have eased up, you have picked up on a phenomenon that has the folks at UCLA Transportation Services smiling.
 
There are about 16,000 fewer vehicles a day on campus than there were in 2003. The number of cars, trucks and other vehicles on campus roads is currently the lowest since 1994. Every day about 110,000 trips a day are made in and out of the campus, compared to 126,000 trips in 2003 — a 13 percent drop.
 
All told, UCLA has enjoyed five consecutive years of declining numbers for two main reasons, said Renée Fortier, director of Transportation Services, which has been offering sustainable transportation for the last 25 years. For one, campus rideshare programs — including UCLA's vast vanpool network, carpools and public transit options — have been so successful that only 37 percent of all faculty, staff and commuting students now drive alone.
 
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In gridlocked Los Angeles, 74% of commuters drive alone. But UCLA has managed to reduce the number of staff and faculty who drive alone to work to only 37%. UCLA's first public transit program to persuade people to take the bus, Bruin Go, began in 2000.
Compare that to Los Angeles in general where 74 percent of all commuters are solo drivers.
 
"The other factor is the increase in student housing," said Fortier. "We now have more students living on campus than we used to, thanks to UCLA Housing. So students are making very few trips in and out of campus. They're also not bringing their cars to campus anymore." Parking permits for undergraduate resident students are hard to come by because students must have an off-campus job to qualify for a permit.
 
Recently, UCLA Transportation Services was honored by an international transit group with its 2009 Innovative Transportation Solutions Award for its successful transportation programs, especially last summer's "Take a Vacation from the Gas Pump" program. The award came from the Southern California chapter of WTS, an international organization of more than 4,000 transportation professionals with 42 chapters representing cities and states in the United States, Canada and Great Britain. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors also issued a proclamation recognizing the department's achievements.
 
Commuters try out transit
 
The "Vacation from the Pump" program offered free monthly bus passes during the summer of 2008 to staff and faculty drivers if they agreed to give up their parking passes temporarily. Of the 390 people who took advantage of the free bus rides, only 124 decided to go back to solo driving after the program and the incentives ended; 266 employees opted to keep riding the bus.
 
"We were pleasantly surprised," Fortier said. "I think a lot of people were afraid to try the bus and give up their parking permits because they didn't want to lose their prime parking spots. So we guaranteed that if they didn't like it, they could go right back to their parking spot. That was the security blanket they needed to try transit."
 
Bus ridership is up
 
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The number of UCLA employees getting onboard public buses today has more than doubled since 2000.
Another successful way UCLA Transportation Services has managed to persuade employees to give up their cars is by working with transit agencies to increase the number of public bus lines that come to the campus. That's led to a leap in bus ridership. In 2000, only 7.4 percent of faculty and staff took the bus to and from work. That number has now more than doubled to 15.5%.
 
"Advocating with public transit agencies and Metro for better service to the campus has made a tremendous difference," Fortier said.
 
There are now five public transit providers running buses to and from the campus: Metro, Culver City, the Big Blue Bus, Santa Clarita and LADOT. On Jan. 18, the Antelope Valley Transit will start making four trips into the campus in the morning and four trips out in the evening.
 
"We have a lot of employees who live in the Palmdale-Lancaster area," said Fortier. The area is now served by 22 UCLA vanpools. The new bus service will offer more flexibility to employees who can't take vanpools because of their work schedules.
 
Next stop: the subway
 
UCLA Transportation Services is also lobbying hard with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to put a station on the proposed Westside subway extension near UCLA. Campus transportation officials made the point to subway planners that UCLA/Westwood is the largest employment center outside of downtown Los Angeles.
 
"When we brought that to their attention, they said, 'Of course we should have a subway stop there.' Originally they had been thinking about not coming this far west," Fortier said.
 
The MTA has shown interest in two possible locations. Planners want to keep the stop close to Wilshire Boulevard, which is a huge transit corridor for hundreds of buses everyday. One stop being considered would be under Wilshire Boulevard somewhere between Westwood Boulevard and Veteran Avenue. The other location that subway planners are looking at would be under Lot 36. Currently, Metro is looking at all possible stops, potential routing and construction impacts.
 
"I believe if a subway stop is put here, it will be very heavily used," Fortier said. "Think about a future where people would be able to reach UCLA by subway to see a basketball game, attend cultural events or to see their doctor at the UCLA Medical Plaza. It will make a big, big difference to commuters and the campus."
 
To learn more about the Westside subway extension, how it will be constructed, routed and where it might stop, see this video produced by Metro featuring, among others, UCLA Vice Chancellor Steve Olsen of finance, budget and capital programs.
 
To see a map of the area under study for the Westside subway extention, go here.