UMBC has long been considered a commuter campus. Almost 14,000 undergraduate and graduate students are enrolled, only 1,500 of which are freshmen, and 25 percent of those freshmen commute. Adding to that total are the 1,800 faculty and staff that must drive from home to work every day.
Many commuter students bemoan the lack of parking on campus. It can be almost impossible to get a parking spot within ten minutes walking distance of a class after nine a.m. This is no surprise, as Paul Dillon, the deputy chief of police for the university, reports only 7,247 parking spaces on campus.
This number may seem large at first glance, but after subtracting parking for all 2,500 graduate students and every faculty and staff member, around 3,000 spots are left. These spots must be allocated between 11,000 undergraduate students, only some of which commute.
However, as of now, there is no viable alternative to the self-driving commuter. Attempts by the university to introduce alternate modes of transportation are not in widespread use, keeping single-rider cars in the majority.
Carpooling is one economically and environmentally healthy commuting plan. It has come into popularity in many workplace situations because of the way a full-time job operates. At work, everyone arrives at the same time and leaves at the same time. A university class structure is not conducive to carpooling.
Linda Wiratan, a junior biochemistry major, is one of the students who commute but are not able to carpool. “It takes 50 minutes for me to drive to UMBC,” Linda said. “I can’t carpool because I … drive to UMBC at 6 a.m., [and] my classes also end very late, around 11 p.m. I would only carpool if people can deal with my schedule.”
Zimride, the private carpooling website that UMBC’s homegrown “Casual Carpooling” moved to, shows a map of places where drivers live, or where passengers want to hitch a ride. The map markers span from Washington DC to Bell Air and everywhere in between, clustering along I-95.
UMBC’s designated carpool parking area, located in lot 4, is only 15 spaces and usually only partially filled. “[The spots in lot 4] were initiated through the Transportation and Work group we have on campus,” Sidney Mason, a sustainability coordinator for OCSS and a junior biology and environmental science double major, said in an interview. “In regards to that, we’re planning on making a permanent lot on campus, specifically for commuter students. It’s a way to incentivize them.”
Zimride also lets students set their price per seat for driving others, further incentive for drivers to volunteer their cars.
“We’ve had discussions about incentives,” he continued. “[We’ve considered] giving a fee for parking passes … and providing discounts for people who use the carpooling method.” As of now, parking pass costs are included in tuition and fees. A visible purchase price might inspire some students to avoid it by signing up to carpool.
Other than private, friend and acquaintance based travel, carpooling does not seem to be attracting a large percentage of the UMBC commuter population. Maybe in the next few semesters there will be a parking lot or parking pass changes that sway some hesitant commuters toward sharing their rides. For now, students will have to arrive to university early and snag the most attractive parking spots for themselves.