Campus car sharing program proposed

By Melissa Silverberg

Streets around campus and the greater Champaign-Urbana region may soon be less congested if a proposed car sharing program is approved and implemented in the area.

Car sharing programs involve people renting cars for short periods of time from a third-party business. These programs can be used to reduce pollution and traffic problems in addition to car pooling and ride sharing programs.

Morgan Johnston, the transportation demand management coordinator at University Facilities and Services, said that they are looking into about four different large-car sharing companies for a proposal to bring such a program to the area.

“When you have a car available for people to use for an hour or two to go to the grocery store, then they are less likely to bring their own car to campus,” Johnston said. “Also it reduces the number of frivolous trips people might take because you have to plan them ahead.”

Having less cars on campus is just one way that officials hope to improve transportation and the environment in addition to the bike system, bus system and the adding of additional pedestrian crosswalks.

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“Aside from the environment, there is also pedestrian safety, which is a very high priority for the University. A reduction of cars is an increase in safety,” Johnston said. She also said that the campus will not be eliminating cars from campus altogether through this proposed program, just offering an alternative for residents of the area.

“If you reduce the number of vehicles used, it would reduce the pollution and really help in terms of parking, especially on campus,” said Rahim Benekohal, a professor of civil engineering specializing in the area of transportation engineering. “Transportation is a major contributor to pollution in big cities.”

Benekohal said car sharing is a new idea with many benefits, such as having your own privacy in the car, instead of car pooling with people you may not know from work or school.

However, he warned that while car sharing may seem like a good idea, car pooling is instead an older idea that can at times be more manageable and has been very effective in the past.

“This is a new idea and we are an educational school. We should always try it. Some ideas work better than expected,” Benekohal said.

Cynthia Hoyle, transportation planning consultant for the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District and an organizer of a possible University partnership with a car sharing company, said her husband is the chair of the mathematics department and is one such employee that would like to not worry about driving and parking on campus if he had another option.

“A lot of people work in the University district or downtown that would prefer not to drive,” Hoyle said.

Hoyle added that hopefully the program will be launched in the fall of 2008, allowing some students to take advantage of car sharing if they live off campus or need to run errands off campus.

Proposals for companies concerning the car sharing program are due Feb. 11 and Johnston said hopefully a decision will be made sometime this winter or spring.