EvCC sustainability expert brings ideas to state commute reduction board

EVERETT — In her nine years focused on sustainability efforts at Everett Community College, Molly Beeman has helped the college put recycled paper in printer drawers, compost its food waste and reduce unwanted junk mail from 200 pounds a day to 10.

As the college continues to grow, one of Beeman’s ongoing challenges involves scrutinizing how students and staff converge on the campus.

There’s a transit center in the middle of campus that delivers riders to the front door, and discounted Orca passes for those who choose the bus.

A change in class schedules makes it easier for many students to make one trip rather than multiple trips for classes in their fields of study.

And a carpool incentive program offers preferential parking and a heavily discounted parking pass.

“If you can save $40 a quarter, that’s a lot of Big Macs and fries,” Beeman said.

Now, Beeman is taking that student-centered perspective with her to the statewide Commute Trip Reduction Board as its first higher education representative.

She comes at a time when the commuter-focused group is looking to expand its reach to all drivers — including college students figuring out the best way to get to class (that may or may not involve a trip through the fast food drive-thru).

“All trips matter and count,” Beeman said, echoing the state group’s new mantra.

The Commute Trip Reduction program was formed by the Legislature in 1991 to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality by encouraging people to ride a bus, vanpool, carpool, walk or bike to work, or to work from home, instead of driving alone.

Large state employers, including Everett Community College, are required to take part. The program’s financial support allows employers to offer discounts and other incentives to encourage their employees to make those choices, which are voluntary.

It’s paying off.

Since 2007, about 14,500 cars have been left at home in favor of other commute alternatives through the program, according to the group’s biannual report to the Legislature, published this month. If you were to put those cars bumper to bumper in a single lane of freeway, traffic would stretch 37 miles.

And that’s just a 4 percent slice of all trips.

More than 8 in 10 trips aren’t related going to their jobs — most drivers are running an errand, visiting family, going to school, living their lives.

“What would happen if we broadened that focus and encouraged others to expand the focus on all trips?” said Brian Lagerberg, director of Public Transportation for the Washington State Department of Transportation and chairman of the Commute Trip Reduction Board.

Board members want to find out.

After laying the groundwork in recent years, the Commute Trip Reduction program is seeking Legislative approval to expand its scope to all trips. The proposal includes a $20 million request to start a competitive grant program that would expand incentives to all drivers.

That’s a big jump from the group’s $6 million biannual budget, which hasn’t changed in 23 years. The report calls it a small investment that can have outsized impact on a region struggling to deal with congestion and its social and environmental pitfalls.

It’s all about options, Lagerberg said. “So when John Doe walks out he door, the choice is not ‘which way do I drive my car?’ It’s what’s the best option available to help me achieve my goals and objectives?”

That current menu of options for work commuters includes carpools, vanpools, buses, trains, walking, biking, telecommuting and online meetings. From an all-trips perspective, the incentives menu would also include such options as ride-share services like Uber and online shopping.

Local efforts offer a preview of what the group envisions.

Everett Transit’s new Everett In Motion program, of which Everett Community College is a part, and Community Transit’s Curb the Congestion program are among them. In both cases, participants are paid cash rewards for meeting certain goals.

They are the kind of programs the state-level group is looking to encourage and expand.

Learn more

Commute Trip Reduction Board: http://ctrboard.ning.com

Everett Transit: Everett In Motion, www.everetttransit.org/233/Everett-in-Motion

Community Transit programs: Curb the Congestion, www.commtrans.org/curbit

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