Researchers at UCSB want to know how students, faculty and staff get to campus every day – and they’ll be using everything, from surveys to global positioning trackers, to find out.

With flyers handed out in front of the UCen Tuesday to target undergraduates, the Geography Dept.’s Vehicle Intelligence and Transportation Analysis Laboratory will be trying to entice at least 2,000 people to take a survey regarding their personal transportation and campus commuting habits. Lab director Val Noronha said the study’s goal is to allow researchers to make recommendations for easing UCSB’s parking problems and promoting alternative methods of transportation.

“I think it’s important for us to understand our community and their needs and how we can best serve those needs,” Noronha said. “We’re here to facilitate [commuter] needs and this survey is designed to understand those needs.”

The transportation lab has been soliciting faculty and staff respondents for the past few weeks and will continue until June 4. The study is funded by the California Partners for Advanced Transit and Highways, under the California Dept. of Transportation.

According to the lab’s website, data collected from surveys and GPS tracking devices affixed to a participant’s car or bicycle will be consolidated into a computerized modeling program. Noronha said the software would average out commute times to and from campus for individual participants, rendering a model of which routes and methods of transportation are the most efficient and most popular.

While some people rely on public transit because they do not have cars, Noronha said public transportation is not a substitute for a car in all situations. He said the study aims to find out more about people who can substitute their automobile use for public transportation, but do not.

“It costs $25,000 to provide a single parking spot [in a multi-level garage],” Noronha said. “For every person I get out of the lot, I’m saving the university $25,000.”

Survey questions include a particular respondent’s usual campus commute schedule, preferred mode of transportation, proximity to bus stops and reasons for why a respondent chooses to walk, drive, ride a bike or use the bus to get to campus. The survey also asks respondents to indicate the maximum he or she would pay for an on-campus permit before switching to an alternative form of transportation, in addition to other hypothetical issues.

He said the results of the survey, which can be taken online, would be submitted to the Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District, the county and UCSB Transportation and Parking Services.

Tom Roberts, parking services director, said the university might use the study results to improve the existing campus parking situation and guide future on campus transportation policy.

“You can’t build your way out of the parking situation,” Roberts said. “It will be a really useful planning tool.”

Roberts said TPS recently created a Transportation Alternative Board, which has already been studying alternative transportation options for student and faculty commuters, including a car-sharing program and more convenient bus schedules. He said the board is looking at closing gaps between different modes of transportation, like the rail and bus systems, to make commuting easier for students on holiday break periods and faculty during everyday rush hours.

“We’re really moving aggressively in a way we really haven’t done in the past,” Roberts said. “We’re really trying to think of new ways we can make it so students coming here don’t have to be car dependent.”

The VITAL survey is located online at Participants are entered into a drawing to win a free MP3 player or gift certificates.
– Staff Writer Jason La also contributed to this story.