How Do You Commute to Work?

Employee survey shows most drive alone but buses, carpools are popular

While 75 percent of Duke employees drive alone to work, an increasing number ride local and regional buses, like the fare-free Bull City Connector. Photo credit: Jessie Gladin-Kramer
While 75 percent of Duke employees drive alone to work, an increasing number ride local and regional buses, like the fare-free Bull City Connector. Photo credit: Jessie Gladin-Kramer

With an increased awareness of an impact on the environment and wallets, Duke faculty and staff are slowly making changes to how they commute to work.

Recently released results from a commuter survey conducted earlier this year show that 75 percent of Duke University and Duke University Health System employees drive alone to campus, down from 77 percent in 2012. Comments from employees responding to the survey show that reducing the cost of travel has been the most influential factor in taking the bus, carpooling or riding a bike to campus.

"I'm saving at least $300 a month just on gas, not even counting wear and tear on my car," said Cathy Watson, associate director of student community life at the Duke Divinity School. She rides a Triangle Transit bus between Raleigh and campus three to five days a week for free with Duke's GoPass, a free bus pass that allows for travel on buses in Raleigh and Durham. "I've seen an increase in number of people riding the bus and Triangle Transit even added extra buses to the route."

GoTriangle conducted the survey, which was distributed in February and March to nearly 29,000 staff and faculty at Duke. Slightly more than 6,000 completed the survey.

Most Duke employees in the 2013 survey said that reliability is the most important factor when choosing how to get to work, compared to time last year. Added reliability of new and more efficient bus routes is part of the shift to alternative transportation for faculty and staff. About half of Duke's 35,000 employees live in Durham County, with about a third of all faculty and staff living within five miles of campus.

Employees also said in the survey that the top reason they don't use alternative transportation is because they need a vehicle to or from work for errands and family responsibilities.

"Duke and Durham have done a lot in recent years to improve infrastructure around campus for biking and walking," said Alison Carpenter, manager of Duke's transportation demand management program. "A lot of people showed they want to save money, but being environmentally friendly also factored into making a conscientious choice to do something different."

Along with 516 full-time bike commuters, Duke community members also account for 38 vanpoolers and nearly 800 carpoolers. Parking and Transportation Services has distributed about 8,500 GoPasses in the 2012-2013 academic year.

The shift toward alternative commuting comes during an evolving time of parking on campus. While Duke spends $20 million a year to run its vast parking and transportation system, it has begun an effort to encourage faculty and staff to utilize sustainable transportation options.

Along with incentives like free parking passes for bike commuters, Duke is working to improve ride matching for carpoolers and is working with Triangle Transit on the development of a smartphone app that will allow students and employees to search for alternative transit-friendly housing options near campus. Duke hopes to continue to roll out expanded commuter benefits over the next academic year.

"Increasingly, there are alternatives for members of the Duke community to come to campus other than driving by oneself," said Kyle Cavanaugh, vice president of administration. "Options like local transit, carpooling or biking are viable alternatives to single-occupancy vehicles and cut down our carbon emissions."

Duke community members using alternative transportation are currently eligible for two free daily parking passes per month in case they need to drive alone to campus. Commuters can also purchase up to 20 daily parking passes each month for $4 each and rent cars on campus with Enterprise CarShare.