On Friday, March 29, 2019, two of us had the opportunity to represent the Sustainable Mountain Development club (SMD) at the Environmental Ethics Symposium, hosted by Utah Valley University (UVU). The annual symposium addresses different environmental and sustainability issues each year, drawing a variety of speakers, from the professional field, cultural leadership, and student activists. This year, we were tapped to speak during the student section, because of the efforts made by SMD and the UIMF, at addressing air quality on campus. We spoke on the recent trip made by UIMF members to the High-Level Political Forum in NYC to present the Wasatch Valley, and areas like it worldwide, as unique and in need of specific attention when facing sustainability issues. We went on to explain the effectiveness of the recent student transit program instituted at UVU. Which is ultimately preventing the production of roughly 3,500 lbs of carbon pollution a day since its start in August 2018.
The Sustainable Mountain Development Club is incredibly proud of it’s student led engaged learning model, and how it has helped its members become active in issues such as air quality. Through this model members of the club submitted both a written and oral statement to the United Nations. This past July in New York, members of our club presented the oral statement to the High Level Political Forum of the United Nations, highlighting the efforts of UVU to engage students in addressing the sustainability issues faced by the Wasatch Front, focusing specifically air quality.
Last year members of the SMD club also focused their efforts on raising awareness for the coming transit passes, and through campusing and tabling, we encouraged students to become comfortable with the public transportation system. We are confident that one crucial aspect of creating sustainably clean air is simply reducing the number of vehicles on Utah roads.
More recently, SMD has focused on studying the effects of the transit passes given to students and faculty in August 2018. Currently, on of us work for campus parking enforcement, and noticed a significant difference in the number of empty parking stalls in the fall 2018 semester, as opposed to fall 2017. We were curious about this because the student body as a whole had increased between those semesters by more than 2000 students. UVU parking services currently does an empty stall count at the peak time of day (10am) during the three busiest days of the week (Tue, Wed, & Thu). This count includes every single student parking lot on campus and is conducted by hand for the benefit of the university in order to know better how to accommodate student parking needs, these numbers were made available to us. We then compiled this data from both 2017 and 2018 to calculate an averaged daily empty stall count for each month of the fall semester from both years. What we found was very encouraging for the effectiveness of the transit passes. Each month are as follows. August: 2017 – 204, 2018 – 407. September: 2017 – 242, 2018 – 727. October: 2017 – 599, 2018 – 1,150. November: 2017 – 717, 2018 – 1,358. December: 2017 – 805, 2018 – 1,524. We can see clearly that while there was an increase of over 2000 students attending the university, there was an increase of an average of 114% more open stalls, and as much as 200% increase in September. These open stalls reflect students using alternative means of transportation, be that carpooling, bicycles, or the transit system. That being said, the school has not seen a decrease in students parking on campus in many years, and attributes the current numbers to the transit pass program.
Because the data available to us is limited, our estimations for pollution reduction is reflective of that limitation. We decided, in order to be as accurate as possible, to only calculate the pollution prevented for the students we were confident were choosing alternative transportation over personal vehicles. With this data we determined that every day, at least 500 more students were using alternative means of transportation. When we pair that number with an average drive time of 3-5 miles (given location of the majority of student housing) and the EPA’s carbon emissions calculator for each mile driven, we find that when those 500 additional students choose alternative transportation, primarily using the student transit pass, they are preventing the production of over 3,500 lbs of carbon pollution a day. That means that in just it’s first three months since implementation, the transit pass program has prevented the production of roughly 320,000 lbs of carbon pollution on UVU campus alone.
Looking forward, UVU is expected to continue to grow, with a conservatively averaged increase of about 6% in past years, which is not expected to subside in the near future. If we extend that number as far as 2025, we can expect a student body nearing the 50,000 mark. If percentages of transit pass users remain consistent, the carbon pollution prevented by the transit pass program at UVU alone, could reach as high as 1.5 million pounds per year.
We believe that to create a sustainable campus, we will need large scale active student involvement. We encourage UVU to increase educational efforts to inform and engage the student body at large in these issues.
Kyler Pigott, President, SMD Club at UVU and Jamie Glaser, member, SMD Club at UVU