Parking Services drives the commuter bandwagon

As if there wasn’t enough trouble in the world – tsunamis, civil war, nuclear meltdown – Parking Services is raising permit fees this fall.

But they’re making up for it, according to Glenna Muncy, Director of Parking Services. The money is going to helping students who don’t necessarily have cars to park.

In an effort to promote carpooling and more sustainable transportation, Parking Services signed UAA on with two programs:  Connect, a campus rental car program by Hertz, and Zimride.com, a commuter website tailored for students and their immediate networks.

Connect by Hertz is a self-service car-share program, which makes rentals available to students who need occasional transportation, but don’t want the financial burden of owning a car.

Here’s a quick rundown of how it works:

To sign up, a student pays a $35 membership fee, which goes toward a driving record check and administrative costs. When they want to rent a vehicle, they pay $9-12 an hour–depending on what type of car–and they get 180 miles to run errands, go snowboarding, or impress a first date. And a gas card takes care of fuel.

Let me repeat that: the gas you burn is covered in the rental price.

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About that you-have-to-be-25-rule in order to rent a car? Not so here. Any student over the age of 18 will be able to rent them out.

UAA will be the first Connect location in Alaska. However, the memberships are transferable, so if a student travels to another Connect city, they can rent a car there as well.

The program aims to be sustainable and green, but Muncy realizes what is practical in Alaska and what isn’t.

”We probably won’t go for hybrid vehicles, just because they’re not very reliable in winter,” she said.

Starting in the fall, the fleet will likely consist of one sedan and one SUV.

One might think Commuter Student Services would be the organization to bring up a program like Connect, but services like these are expensive. Parking Services stepped up to bring the program to UAA. The funds come, in part, from the roughly $200,000 in citations they collect every year.

“For Parking Services to take responsibility and come up with these fantastic options to improve commuter life,” says Sarena Hackenmiller, Manager of the Student Union and Commuter Student Services, “it’s amazing. And it’s super green!”

Zimride: a carpooling dream

Zimride.com is a commuter website geared specifically toward commuter college students. Users can set up rides, schedules, and determine how much they’ll charge passengers.

The entire user network is exclusive to the campus, so the anonymity of craigslist gets tossed out the window. Those concerned with safety can narrow rides down and offer them to only their personal network. In addition, users can sign up for Zimride through Facebook, and manage their rides through that.

Of course, students can use Zimride for more than just commuting to school. It’s there for work, road trips, pub-crawls, anything.

Zimride is gaining popularity on campuses on the west coast. San Francisco, for example, has more than 170 commuter rides available, according to their website. Los Angeles has nearly 350.

“Alaska’s not the metropolis that California is, so it might take a while before it picks up,” said Muncy. “You may have good luck or it might be sporadic.”

The more people that sign up and use the service, she says, the faster and more efficient it will be.

“The commuter options have gotten better,” said David Murdoch, Commuter Student Services Coordinator. “If only people would start using them.”

“It’ll help people be more conscious about the environment, Hackenmiller said, “and to find other methods of getting around.”

When I signed up with Zimride, they emailed me the information I needed to get started, and I also received this bite of information: “The average person spends $5,000 per year on their car. By sharing your ride, you can split the cost and save enough to buy either: 416 burritos, 25 small goats, or a seven-day Hawaii vacation for two.”

“It’s really exciting to see UAA move toward efficiency and progress,” said Hackenmiller.

And with gas prices rising toward the hole in the ozone layer, these options make the new price increase disaster a little less painful for students.

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