March 20, 2000
Volume 52, No. 25
Brian Shaw: Another one rides the bus
By Eric Rangus
Brian Shaw is new to Emory, but he's hardly a stranger.
The director of alternative transportation moved into his new office in the lowergate parking deck on March 1, but he's had a hand in Emory's transportation management for several years.
In 1997, while Shaw was principal transportation planner for the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC), he helped lay the groundwork for the Clifton Corridor Transportation Management Association (TMA), formed that fall.
He based its organization on his experiences as a student at UCLA in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Shaw grew up in Los Angeles and it played a part in his desire to seek a career in urban planning.
"[L.A.] is a disaster from a transportation perspective," Shaw said. "Everything you do, you have to plan around how long it will take you to get there with traffic. I wanted to create plans to encourage people not to build their lives around the automobile."
When faced with Emory's TMA job, Shaw saw similarities between the two urban campuses and figured that UCLA's system, which mixes students with employees in high-rise office buildings near campus, would work at Emory. That became the basis for the Clifton Corridor TMA, which has been quite successful.
"I helped set up programs, acquire funding, set up the legal structure and tax-free status; I was very familiar with how things worked," Shaw said.
When the alternative transportation director position opened in February, Shaw's resume found its way to the top of the pile.
"He kind of held our hands when we were in the formation stages of the TMA," said Erick Gaither, senior associate vice president of business management. He was more than happy to offer Shaw the job.
After some thought, Shaw accepted. In his three-plus years at ARC, Shaw created four TMAs, including Clifton Corridor's. He moved to Atlanta after earning a master's degree in city planning from the University of Pennsylvania and a year working in the private sector in Philadelphia. In less than a month on campus he has jumped waist deep into Emory's dynamic transportation world.
"The University is committed to alternative transportation," Shaw said. "It will be an integral part of the planning process and the redevelopment of the campus over the next 20, 30, 40 years. The commitment to these programs is not waning, if anything its increasing. What I would like to do is maintain what we have and add new features as we're able."
All the commitment in the world, though, doesn't mean much if Shaw can't put people in the seats of his shuttles. And that's where the struggle comes in. Shaw faces two main hurdles to getting people on his buses, and they're both doozies: Emory's lack of a supporting infrastructure and Atlanta's "my car is my castle" culture.
Without a MARTA train station in the vicinity, Emory is left dangling when it comes to public transportation. Many students and staffers do not want to ride a bus to campus even though many are available; they prefer their own transportation, and while carpools and vanpools are options, the vast majority of campus commuters drive solo.
"It's part of the culture and fabric of Atlanta to drive yourself where you need to go and have that action accommodated by either free or ample parking," said Shaw in a way that suggests he's repeated the phrase a thousand times. "That model works in a small city but doesn't work in a region of 3 million."
Overcoming Emory's infrastructure obstacles is where Shaw's creative marketing comes in. "What we try to do here is create programs that make it as easy as possible to use something other than your own car."
Therefore, Shaw wants to make taking Emory's public transportation . . . fun. One idea is to create a commuter club with accompanying discounts at certain merchants. That goes along with the free MARTA passes and free carpool parking already offered.
Shaw wants to change people's minds about public transportation but prefers they come to that conclusion themselves, and that requires incentives. Still, with on-campus parking spots disappearing and the move to a pedestrian campus under way, new thinking will soon be a necessity.
"We might encourage people to change their behavior," Shaw said. "But what this really does is send a message that this is the kind of community behavior that Emory wants you to haveand rewards you for doing it."
"His job is more complicated than TMA managers throughout the city," Gaither said. "We have the TMA here, but Emory's commuting option program is so big."
The most high profile of Shaw's new programs is the University Apartments parking deck and its accompanying shuttle road, which will open in the fall. That's where all five electric-powered shuttles will go, mixed in with several compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles. These vehicles will be phased into Emory's diesel fleet, replacing older buses. Eventually, more than half (16 of 31 total buses) will be alternatively fueled.
While these new shuttles are boons for the environment, they have drawbacks, not the least of which is cost. The electric shuttles cost more than a diesel bus, but their purchase is covered by a federal transportation grant.
The shuttles also have a range of just 80 miles on a single charge. Since the University Apartments route is short, that may not be a problem; the vehicles will be tested on the route to determine their actual range. Electric shuttles also require special driver training. They slow down by themselves and do not require a lot of braking. In fact, through a process called regenerative braking, the vehicles recharge themselves while on the road by channeling the braking energy back into the battery.
The main problem with the clean-running (they do not release impurities like gasoline-powered engines) CNG vehicles is fuel availability; the closest refueling station is on Moreland Avenue. Current plans call for a refueling depot to be built at Emory's shuttle base on Johnson Road, but it won't be finished until 2001.
So, Emory's short-term transition to alternatively fueled vehicles may be hairy, but if Shaw has his way, it should pay off in the long run.
"Emory is committed to providing a clean fleet on campus, and we have to do what we can to accommodate that," Shaw said.