Caution: School Zone Ahead Defining what it means to be car-dependent in college

Caution: School Zone Ahead Defining what it means to be car-dependent in college
Ian Simmons, sophomore public relations and advertising major, decides to relive his childhood by rollerblading in order to survive college life without a car. Photo courtesy of Simmons.

In a fast-paced, car-centric city, one of the ways to get by is to say: “Screw it. I’ll just buy some rollerblades.”

Students who live without a car at Chapman get around by using everything from rollerblades to begging and bribing friends for rides.

Ian Simmons is one of those students. Tired of constantly asking friends for rides and spending his money on Ubers, Simmons, a sophomore public relations and advertising major, decided to go the unconventional route.

“I saw everyone on skateboards, bikes and scooters, and I was thinking, ‘What can I do to get around quickly without a lot of energy?’” he said. “I just decided to buy rollerblades and make that my thing.”

About 31 percent of students who reside on-campus, or close to campus, live without a Chapman parking permit, according to the  2013 Campus Sustainability Audit. The growing student population has led to an increased demand for parking passes and puts stress on the availability of open spaces, despite additions.

Parking and Transportation Services did not respond to six attempts to comment on the number of students who own cars or parking permits for the 2018/2019 year.

Expenses, location and parental subsidies all play a role in whether or not students own cars. Insurance rates for young adults are higher than other adult age groups, according to ValuePenguin, a financial advising website. Parking permits for commuters and resident students cost $278 annually. California also has the highest price for gas, about $3.61 per gallon, compared to the national average of $2.70 per gallon as of March 31, according to the American Automobile Association.

“Free or discounted transit passes, timely provision of transit information, availability of parking, and convenience of fare payment, influence university students’ mode choice,” states a 2016 study published in the International Journal of Sustainable Transportation.

For a lot of people, money – or the lack of it – is the biggest issue, said Dave Sundby, director of Residence Life and First Year Experience.

“If you’re from across the country and you have to move a vehicle across the country, either shipping or driving, that is time and money and gas all spent,” Sundby said.

The “broke college student” trope shows itself in the creative ways students try to finagle transportation in Orange – an area designed around having a car. “Of course,” some students use the university’s “Saferide” program as a regular mode of transportation, said Chief of Public Safety Randy Burba.

Public Safety offers Operation Saferide free of charge to escort students, faculty, staff and campus visitors who feel unsafe from 7:30 p.m. to between 12:15 a.m. and 2:15 a.m., depending on the day. The Chapman website includes guidelines and rules for the service, like a maximum of four trips per person in a single night.

Operation Saferide is no questions asked, and gets decent use, Burba said. “We probably get around 100 uses per semester.”

In a car-less life, having friends is seen as essential.

“With friends, it’s more convenient if I need to have a last-minute stop,” said Taylor Thorne, a sophomore English major. “I always ask if I could contribute to gas or help them out because they’re driving me around.”

Thorne grew up with public transportation, taking buses, the subway and Ubers in NYC and Jersey City. She does not have a driver’s license and did not think about getting one until she came to Chapman. “Everybody walks in New York,” Thorne said.

Maria Kachulis-Moriarty, a sophomore political science and Spanish major, “Ubered everywhere” when she first came to Chapman. But the cost added up. She soon discovered it was cheaper to give friends gas money instead: They made a little dough and she saved the sometimes steep price of an app-based ride.

“I grew up in East Coast cities that are walkable, so I had no idea that there were cities where people needed cars to get around,” said Kachulis-Moriarty, who grew up 30 minutes north of Boston in North Andover. “Small town life” led Kachulis-Moriarty to get a car when she turned 16.

Emily Tucker, a junior business administration major who lives in the Harris Apartment complex, worries about annoying her friends by frequently asking for rides. She sometimes waits for her parents to visit from San Diego to run errands with them.

Emily Tucker’s daily commute consists of walking to class, to her on-campus job and then back to her dorm. Photo by Alya Hijazi.

With no other modes of transportation, Tucker uses “just [her] two feet.”

Simmons walked miles to get to places before he bought his rollerblades, or he would tag along with his friends if they were going out.

“It’s like killing two birds with one stone,” Simmons said. “I try not to make people wait for me. I try to make my schedule revolve around them. I hate asking, because I don’t want to be that guy that asks for rides all the time and be a burden for that.”

When parents ask Sundby for advice on whether or not they should send a car with their kids to school, they’re generally looking for him to say no, he said.

“They don’t really want to send a car with a child,” Sundby said. “They want their son or daughter to be here and present and not have the ability to drive to L.A. on the weekend, like they kind of have to be here and invested in their community.”

Yet, to some students, this feels like a bash to their independence.

“Freshman year of college was the first time since sophomore year of high school that I didn’t have access to my own car, and it felt horrible to lose that freedom,” Kachulis-Moriarty said. “College was supposed to be the time that I got all the freedom I had been waiting for throughout high school, but it ended up feeling like I had lost freedom instead of gaining it,” she added.

While there are school-mandated shuttles for Chapman Grand and Panther Village residents, some students have issues with the reliability of the shuttles, Chapbook reported in October 2018.

Yasmeen Abukhalaf, a sophomore political science and peace studies major, is one of many students who rely on shuttle services to travel between Chapman Grand and the main campus. Photo by Alya Hijazi.

Chapman also offers rideshare incentives, such as discounts on public transportation, rental cars and a carpool system. However, “most incentives to rideshare to campus are unknown to more than half of students, staff, and faculty,” states the 2017 Environmental Audit. “The current rideshare or carpool programs offered at Chapman are not used by all those who could benefit from them.”

Students who don’t bring a car to campus for two years are eligible to apply for a Bike Voucher Program that allocates a $350 voucher for a local bike shop.

Students who live within a mile radius tend to bike to campus, Burba said. Public Safety is in charge of bike registration, with 276 bicycles registered in 2018.

Thorne bought a bike. It was a good decision, and made her feel “like a typical college student straight out of a movie,” she said.

“It did teach me to be self-sufficient in the way I get around,” Thorne said. “I like it because it’s a time for me to clear my head and be in my own place.”

Even though sustainability was not the main reason why she bikes, Synne Sollie, a freshman screenwriting major, said she is more aware of her carbon footprint.

“I don’t own a car and don’t plan on getting one,” Sollie said. “I’m used to my bike now and feel more environmentally conscious.”

With 68 percent of students living off-campus, riding a bike is one option for students to get around, states the 2017 Environmental Audit. Photo by Alya Hijazi.

The carbon footprint of one passenger vehicle can be about 4.6 metric tons – over 10,000 pounds – of carbon dioxide in a year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This finding correlates with another surrounding greenhouse gas emissions; transportation makes up about 28.5 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to the EPA.

With the United States’ growing population, space on the road will continue to diminish. Because of “fiscal constraints and limited capital,” funding for roadways is becoming less of a priority, and traffic congestion is getting worse, according to a 2015 report published by the Center for Immigration Studies. “Adding 111 million people to the U.S. population over the next half century will worsen our already overcrowded roads and freeways,” the report states.

Even without a car, students are finding out that there’s a price tag on transportation. The rise of app-based riding services has been an additional expense for college students.

Thorne, who uses Uber on the weekends, spends $20 to $30 a week on rides. Kachulis-Moriarty spends upwards of $40 a week, she said.

The approximate cost of a car payment, insurance, gas, maintenance, repairs, registration and taxes for a car is about $220 weekly, according to NerdWallet, a financial advice website.

Another cheap option to owning a car is public transportation, but public transit in California can be daunting for some. For Thorne, it was not cost or time efficient to own a car on the East Coast. She’s finding the same may not be true in California.

“I’ve never used public transportation in California because I don’t understand it,” Thorne said. “Also nobody uses it here, and it’s like two different cultures.”

Even with the many ways that students get around, car dependency is prevalent on college campuses.

“I don’t want to sound mean or negative, but there isn’t an easy solution to not having a car in Southern California,” Kachulis-Moriarty said.


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