March 27 , 2006
Building a better,
cleaner way to travel
BY Mike Terrazas
Starting next fall, Emory’s going to be a lot easier place to get around.
By Sept. 1, the University’s shuttle service will have undergone perhaps the largest overhaul in its history, more than doubling the number of routes, adding buses, and filling those buses with gizmos to keep riders entertained as they move about smoothly within—and beyond—the campus borders.
At present, Emory’s shuttle service encompasses 48 buses serving seven routes and reaching out as far as Grady Hospital and downtown Decatur (an eighth “route,” to and from Oxford College, is run once a day).
Under the proposed expansion, Emory shuttles will run 17 color-coded routes that cover all of the existing stops and add many new ones, including service to areas such as Northlake and North DeKalb malls, and Executive Park.
But that’s just the beginning: Many of the buses will run on new fuels, will stop at new bus shelters, and will offer new amenities to what Emory officials hope will be a surge of new riders choosing to leave behind their single-occupant vehicles and embrace a cleaner way to travel. Just as they are now, University shuttles will be open to anyone who wants to ride, whether affiliated with Emory or not.
“In the recent transit study done by the Clifton Corridor Transportation Management Association (CCTMA), demand management was one of the issues identified as needing to be addressed,” said Bob Hascall, vice president for Campus Services. “This addresses that area specifically.”
Shuttle routes serving the core campus will be shortened, and all 17 will converge at what Hascall and Associate Vice President Laura Ray are calling the “transportation nexus” at the intersection of Woodruff Circle and Means Drive, in front of Woodruff Research Building. Furthering Emory’s goal of building a pedestrian campus, all shuttles will be removed from the University’s geographic center near Cox Hall and the Dobbs Center.
Ray, brought in last year to oversee Emory’s transportation efforts, said exact numbers to measure the expansion in shuttle routes are still being worked out, but the change will be measured in orders of magnitude. “We’re increasing our service multifold,” Ray said.
That multifold increase will include a quantum leap in technology. Ray said all Emory shuttles will be equipped with automated passenger counters (at present, Campus Services can only estimate ridership) and tracking software that will monitor where the vehicles are. Riders will have a variety of options for checking in: They could use their PDAs or Treos to visit a website, they could call a number on their cell phones, or—at some bus shelters—they could simply look at a flat-panel screen to see how long before their ride arrives.
All of Emory’s bus shelters will be rebuilt to architecturally reflect the “Emory look” but also to improve signage (the letter-coded posts demarking shuttle stops will be replaced with actual bus-stop signs) and to add the tracking technology that not only will make shuttle service more customer-friendly, but also will enable Campus Services to pinpoint bottlenecks and fine-tune the routes.
“We’ve heard complaints about shuttles driving around campus with no passengers in them,” Hascall said. “This will allow us to look at demand and make adjustments.”
A cleaner Clifton Corridor
Though improving shuttle service around the central campus is the top priority for fall semester, concurrent will be efforts to leverage the expanded service into improved commuter options by opening Park & Ride lots around Atlanta. Even before Sept. 1, Ray said, the first such lot could open at North DeKalb Mall, meaning Emory employees and students could park at the mall and ride a shuttle in to campus, using that time perhaps to go online using the Wi-Fi service that will be added to many vehicles in the Emory fleet.
There are still details to be worked out with the mall’s management (such as how much it will cost Emory, how security and maintenance will be provided, etc.), but Ray said she expects the deal to get done sooner rather than later, and more agreements could be on the way at Northlake Mall, Executive Park, further out toward Stone Mountain, and at other locations to the west and south of Emory’s campus.
Ultimately the goal of the Park & Ride lots is to remove commuters’ cars from the Clifton Corridor, and even the shuttles themselves will be cleaner: Ray said new additions to the fleet will run on bio-diesel, a sustainable fuel that can be produced from vegetable sources and even from used cooking grease.
For commuters, the biggest incentive is cost; people can commit to using the Park & Ride lots to avoid being billed for on-campus parking. But Ray knows convenience is another factor, and to that end Emory is contracting with Flexcar (www.flexcar.com) to provide loaner cars that may be checked out, free of charge, by faculty and staff to run workday errands.
The program will start with six gasoline-powered Honda Civics; if demand is there, Ray said, another six can be added immediately, and in the future the loaner cars will have hybrid engines. People who are registered with Emory’s alternative transportation programs may use the cars free up to four hours per week, and Ray said they will also be available for departmental business travel.
“We’re the first in Atlanta to be doing this,” said Ray, adding the program will begin May 1. “Flexcar has been very successful at Portland State University in Oregon. In Atlanta, the community improvement districts, Midtown Alliance and Central Atlanta Progress, will begin offering the service a month after we do, and Georgia Tech and Georgia State are looking into it, too.”
To roll out all the changes in Emory’s shuttle service (including a new name, the search for which has already started), Ray and Hascall are meeting with as many as 30 groups around campus. An e-mail address (firstname.lastname@example.org) has been established for inquiries about the shuttles, and more information can be found at http://www.epcs.emory.edu/alttransp/shuttles.html.