Alternatives to Having a Car on Campus

In an earlier post, we suggested some of the considerations parents and students might want to discuss as they decide whether or not the student will take a car to campus.  Many colleges prohibit first-year students from bringing cars, but at some point during the college years, your student may want to consider whether or not to take a car to school.

More and more colleges are encouraging their students to leave their cars home.  As more students bring cars to school, parking on many campuses is becoming a serious issue.  Colleges and universities are also trying to do their part to institute policies which are environmentally friendly.  So if your college student is considering whether or not to take a car to school, he might want to investigate the alternatives available.


Even if your student is a commuter, she might not need to drive to school every day.  More and more colleges are encouraging students (and faculty and staff members) to carpool to school.  The school may have a program which helps students and staff members find others in their area who might want to share a ride, and many schools now offer prime, designated parking for carpool members.

Public Transportation

Schools are encouraging students to take public transportation when possible.  Obviously, this is more easily done in urban settings, but there may be a bus or train near your student’s campus.  Some schools offer discounts on monthly passes or run shuttles from nearby train stations or bus stops.  Some schools may even work with transportation systems to arrange for a bus stop near the college.


If your student lives on campus, he may not be able to drive his car around the campus any more.  More specifically, he may not be able to park his car anywhere.  Colleges are encouraging students to walk more.  One way in which they are doing this is to designate only one place on campus where the student may park.  This may be a parking lot near his residence hall, or it may be a designated student parking lot in a different area of campus.  Walking not only is a healthy alternative to driving (perhaps combating that dreaded “freshman 15”), but it creates a greater sense of community on the campus as students see each other and spend more time moving around campus.  Walking is also a great way to de-stress and to wake up for that early morning class.

Trolleys and Shuttles

Your student’s college may provide more options for traveling around the campus or for getting off campus.  The school may run a shuttle that circles the campus to help students get from place to place.  Many schools run frequent off-campus shuttles to local malls, restaurants, movie theaters, or area public transportation.  As more and more schools restrict first year students from bringing cars, they are increasing the options for getting off campus.

Encouraging Bikes

Many schools have taken innovative approaches to encouraging students to use bikes as a means for getting around campus – or even off campus.  Schools are creating more bike paths to encourage biking and to ensure safety of bikers.  Schools are installing more bike racks.  Some schools that have shuttles on campus have installed bike racks on the buses to allow students to carry their bikes with them.  Schools have installed lockers at various places around campus for bikers to store gear and have established on-campus repair facilities, or made arrangements for discounts at local bike shops. Some have established a bike registration program which works as a theft deterrent and also allows campus programming for biking students.


Some colleges have created bike-share or bike-loan programs.  These programs have a fleet of bikes available on campus.  Students register and reserve a bike and then are given a lock combination.  They can borrow the bike – for an hour or a day or a week – and then return the bike to another designated location.  Students can have access to a bike without owning one or having constant responsibility for one.

Free Bikes

Some schools have even created a free-bike program to encourage students to leave their cars home.  Students who sign up for the program and pledge to leave their cars at home are given a free bike – sometimes including helmet, lock and lights.

Car-share programs

Public transportation, walking and biking are great alternatives to bringing a car to campus.  But there are times when a student might need a car.  Many students, however, do not need a car daily.  Colleges and universities around the country, as well as the business sector, are recognizing that many people need a car only occasionally.  Two car-share programs are working with colleges and universities to provide cars for students only when they need them.  Zipcar and UCarShare have both established partnerships with numerous colleges around the country.  Zipcar alone is now established at over 120 schools. Both programs make cars available to students 24/7.

The principle of the car-share program is simple.  Students register for the program and pay a registration fee, usually in the neighborhood of $25-50.  Students must be 18 years old and have a driver’s license and credit card.  Once the student is registered, he can go on line and reserve a car for any day or time.  Cars are located in certain areas of campus.  The student then goes to the car with his membership card, holds the electronic card to a box on the windshield, and the car unlocks. The car key is available inside the car.  The student is then free to use the car and return it to the same place or another designated drop off place.  He then swipes the card and the car locks and is ready for the next user.  The student’s previously submitted credit card is charged for the appropriate amount of time. Usage fees are generally between $8 and $10 per hour and include gas and insurance.  This is a great option for a student who needs to get to an off campus store, an interview, an occasional off campus appointment, or who just wants to take a short off-campus outing.

Some car-share programs allow for pre-paid cards, much like pre-aid phone cards.  Parents can even pre-pay a certain amount per month for the student to use.  If the student goes over the allotted amount then she can pay the difference.

Many options

Colleges and universities around the country are working to make it easier for a student to leave his car at home.  Obviously, some students will still need to have a car, but before automatically assuming that a car is necessary, students should consider the alternatives.  The options are growing.  Not having a car on campus can make a difference in the student’s health, environmental footprint, stress, and certainly the contents of his wallet.

Related Posts:

Should My College Student Have a Car On Campus?


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