Frontier Group


New Report: A New Course

A new Frontier Group report discusses how universities and colleges across the country are taking steps to encourage their communities, students, faculty and staff to decrease their reliance on personal vehicles. These efforts are working and showing that efforts aimed at reducing driving deliver powerful benefits for students, staff and surrounding areas. Policymakers at all levels of government should look to college campuses for useful models when looking to expand the range of transportation options available to Americans and address the transportation challenges facing our communities.

Tom Van Heeke

Policy Analyst

Just two years ago, I was a senior in college in Iowa and approached the spring academic semester with a combination of excitement and anxiety. I worried about a number of things, including finding a job and where I might want to live, but I recall one issue over which there was little hemming and hawing: how I planned to get around once I entered the “real world.” In fact, by the time I walked across the graduation stage it was quite obvious to me that I’d start my post-college life without a personal car and use a combination of transit, carsharing and my own two feet to get to work, the store and recreation. You see, I didn’t have a car as an undergraduate so for four years in college I practiced getting around without one: biking and walking in town, using a carsharing service when I needed to go farther afield, and making the most of transit when it was available. What had been seemed self-evident as a newly enrolled freshman – that I’d need some wheels of my own after I got my diploma – was quite the opposite by the time I graduated.

Our latest report, A New Course, shows that this experience – living a car-light or even car-free lifestyle in college – is increasingly common. From university-funded transit networks to bike paths, ride-sharing databases and Zipcars, colleges are investing in broad-based strategies that make alternatives to traveling alone in a personal car both possible and desirable.

There are three reasons why this matters beyond the confines of campus.

  • College transportation investments can expand transportation options for the entire community. For example, when schools contribute funding for the local transit agency (as the University of North Carolina has done by providing the largest share of funding for a fare-free transit system in Chapel Hill), they can support better service for everyone.
  • University transportation plans provide a powerful example that can be followed by other institutions, cities or regions facing similar transportation challenges. We’ve already seen, for instance, the city of Palo Alto find inspiration in Stanford University’s transportation policies when addressing their downtown area’s parking and congestion challenges.
  • College students develop transportation habits that may persist after graduation, with implications for the kinds of infrastructure and services government should provide in order to meet future demand. According to a 2013 survey conducted by Zipcar, approximately half of the class of 2013 did not plan to take a car with them to their next endeavor after graduation.

To better align transportation policy with the values and behaviors of a new generation, while delivering benefits for the community today, more public decision-makers should look to universities and colleges for proven, forward-thinking policy innovations and new ideas for how to build appealing, vibrant communities in which driving is an option, not a necessity.


Tom Van Heeke

Policy Analyst