Assistant to the Provost for Sustainability Initiatives
University of Louisville
Trading parking permits for bicycles has caught on at the University of Louisville, where administrators are seeking ways to defer the need to build new parking facilities by encouraging commuters to adopt alternative modes of transportation. The school has about 22,000 students and 6,000 employees, with a high concentration of car-dependent commuters. Administrators wanted to get members of the campus community to “think outside the car.”
A shift in thinking occurred when it became apparent that the university would need to build three expensive new parking decks to accommodate increased demand. At the same time, researchers found that 18 percent of the university’s greenhouse gas emissions were the result of car-based commuting, while the city of Louisville had fallen to the bottom reaches of the American Fitness Index.
U of L administrators began by taking commuter surveys, which included specific questions on bicycle commuting. One strategy in particular seemed to be worth considering in further detail, and that was the idea of trading a parking permit for a free bicycle. Over 20 percent of respondents said they would “definitely” or “probably” consider doing so.
Administrators then considered other options, including free bus rides, carpool and vanpool support, and financial incentive programs, among others. While the idea of free bus rides had strong support, the notion of trading a parking permit for a bicycle still had very encouraging numbers.
The university then launched a multifaceted commuter program, including an “earn-a-bike” program that delivered a $400 bicycle voucher to campus community members who agreed to give up their rights to a parking permit for two years. Other aspects of the program supported walking, public transportation, and carpooling. The school also implemented vastly improved its cycling infrastructure, including secure parking, repair centers, pathway improvements, and a campus-based bike shop and bike-share facility.
Qualified recipients were prioritized, based on their driving history and the likelihood that they would make a permanent change to bike-based commuting. Between 2012 and 2015, about 800 people per year applied to the program, with slightly more than half being offered bike vouchers. Of participants, 90 percent scored their satisfaction with the program at 8/10 or higher, indicating a very high level of effectiveness.