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UF Combating Carbon Footprint With Sustainable Transportation

Riders board an RTS bus at the Reitz Union on the University of Florida campus. (Brooke Bajgrowicz/WUFT News)
Riders board an RTS bus at the Reitz Union on the University of Florida campus. (Brooke Bajgrowicz/WUFT News)

Alachua County is flooded with the vehicles of residents and students commuting to their jobs and classes every day.

The county has 191,989 licensed drivers, according to the most recent statistics from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

Although environmental concerns associated with vehicles are growing, sustainable transportation options are developing, as well.

The University of Florida is combating its carbon footprint — from the vehicles driven by students, faculty and staff — by adding and improving sustainable modes of transportation, said Allison Vitt, the outreach and communications coordinator for UF's Office of Sustainability.

Carbon emissions can contribute to a variety of issues, including climate change, and climate change's effects aren't always visible, the congestion on campus is adding to it, Vitt said.

To offset this, the Office of Sustainability has a goal to transition 10 percent of UF’s vehicle fleet to electric vehicles in the next five to 10 years.

Vitt said the office is working toward that goal by encouraging faculty who choose new vehicles for UF's fleet to pick electric ones. This, she added, is part of what will help UF reach another goal: carbon neutrality by 2025.

One way the Office of Sustainability reaches staff is through its annual Sustainable Transportation Fair, which was held at the university on Wednesday.

The fair, which featured a vehicle expo and tables hosted by organizations like RTS and Parking and Transportation Services, targeted both students and faculty. The aim of the fair is to give students the tools they need to better access sustainable transportation, Vitt said.

“They might have barriers or obstacles they perceive that are keeping them from using these forms of transportation,” Vitt said.

Some students, for example, might not know how to find bus routes that work for them. Because of this,  they might not take the bus at all, she said.

“The hope is that people can talk to RTS and find the right routes," she said, "and now we’ve overcome a barrier, and that person can ride the bus and not have to take their car."

UF uses buses to help the environment by keeping cars off the road, said Chip Skinner, the marketing and communications supervisor for RTS.

A full RTS bus can hold about 72 people. This means each bus potentially can keep 72 vehicles off the road and thus noxious gases such as nitrous oxide, which is a common greenhouse gas, out of the air, he said.

Buses are "more sustainable and more beneficial to the environment than everybody jumping in personal vehicles,” he said.

In the 2017 fiscal year, about 9.4 million passenger trips were taken on RTS buses, he said. While this is a 3.2 percent decrease from the 2016 fiscal year, during which about 9.8 million passenger trips were taken, RTS hopes this number will rise in the future, Skinner said.

RTS uses buses that run on a B20 blend, which releases less pollution into the environment, he said.

“It’s more natural compounds that are released and more water than say a typical straight-up diesel fuel,” Skinner said.

RTS also combats environmental harm by running five hyper-electric buses. These buses reduce fuel consumption by running on electricity and fuel similarly to the way a hybrid vehicle runs. Three of the buses were given to RTS by UF, and the other two were received through federal grant programs, Skinner said.

Meanwhile, RTS is working to add pure electric buses into its fleet. RTS previously tried to add a pure electric bus in the ‘90s, but due to limited technology and reliability, it was removed from the fleet. Skinner said a pure electric bus should perform better now.
"We’re anticipating the first one," he said. "The manufacturer has not yet made that bus, so we’re looking at sometime in early 2019."

Alyssa Towns, an intern for the UF Office of Sustainability, said she encourages students and residents to consciously make sustainable choices.

“I realize how much of an impact humans can have on the environment, and I want to promote limiting that impact,” Towns said. “We live on this earth with millions of other species, and they are all just as important as we are.”

Towns uses a bike as her main form of transportation and encourages others to do the same.

In addition to choosing eco-friendly transportation options, people can help the environment by recycling and being conscious buyers, she said. This means cutting down on waste production and purchasing items with limited amounts of packaging.

UF student Drayton Lott said he makes use of sustainable transportation options by biking and taking buses on campus.

He said he prefers these modes of transportation to struggling to find a parking spot.

The sophomore bikes and takes the bus for convenience, but he said it is also beneficial for the community because these transportation methods cut down on potential carbon emissions.

“We benefit as a society when we use transportation that has minimal impact on the environment,” Lott said.

Cities and universities will provide more sustainable forms of transportation if students demand and utilize them, he added.

The Office of Sustainability said it can aid that demand, Vitt said.

“When you ride your bike instead of driving your car, you are directly impacting the sustainability at the university,” she said. “I think that’s a big reason we do this kind of programming: to really get individuals to understand that they have a role in the bigger picture of sustainability at UF.”

Brooke Bajgrowicz is a journalism student at the University of Florida who is passionate about storytelling and music. After graduating, she plans to combine her interests by writing for an entertainment magazine. She can be reached at