Your resource for sustainable transportation options
Commuting. How often do you find yourself sitting in traffic, blocking out the smell of exhaust and intermittent honking by turning up the radio? This daily adventure has many commuters looking for options. If all drivers cut out one work trip per week, there would be 20 percent less weekday traffic at peak hours. With such a significant reduction in cars on the road, rush hour would be less rushed, saving the planet and endless frustrations.
There are plenty of reasons to look into commuting options. With gas up to three dollars a gallon again, saving money is critical, considering the current economic downturn. Of course, gas isn’t the only expense that drivers incur. Besides maintenance, insurance, registration fees and the occasional accident, driving costs soar when road repair and environmental factors impacting all taxpayers are considered. Taxes and fees imposed at the pump were only able to cover 64 percent of the $64.6 billion that improvements and repairs cost the U.S. in 2000, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Transportation. This leaves over $23 billion that must be funded by the state and other local sources. [See the online Commuter Resolution pledge or print version]
Leaving the car parked in the driveway in exchange for some good walking shoes or a bike kills two bids with one stone. Rather than driving to the gym to hop on the treadmill or stationary bike, take a jog or ride your bike to work. Depending on the length of the trip, human-powered transportation burns calories, not fossil fuels.
Environmental concerns spearhead the national effort to reduce the amount of fuel burned through transportation. Each gallon of gas that is conserved prevents 20 pounds of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere, according to fuel economy.gov. The impact of every mile on the road goes beyond personal checking accounts. Personal transportation contributes to many environmental worries, making sustainable transportation choices essential in reducing each person’s carbon footprint. Take note of the following:
Waste Disposal: Disposal of hazardous materials associated with automobiles is harmful, financially and environmentally. Tires, batteries, scrapped vehicles, oil and other potentially volatile materials are difficult to dispose of properly. Even when this waste makes it to the right place, it doesn’t just go away, but continues to collect, taking over landfills and waste stations.
Resource Consumption: Automobiles are also one of the largest consumers of natural resources. Draining the planet of oil to keep engines running not only creates an unnatural balance of supply and demand which can be seen in record oil profits, but also depletes the balance of our ecosystem.
Air Pollution: One third of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States are transportation related. If carbon dioxide is a contributing factor to the greenhouse effect, the transportation industry is responsible to alleviate some of this pollution. Switching to more sustainable transportation, such as cycling, ridesharing or walking, can make a drastic difference in air pollution and global warming.
Water Pollution: Our water is also impacted by automotive technology. From leaking engines to oil tanker spills, the automotive industry does its part in polluting oceans and waterways. Wildlife and drinking water are directly affected by automotive pollution since everything tends to run downhill. And with the ocean right around the corner for most Santa Cruzans, this truth tends to hit home.
Understanding why it’s important to seek alternative commuting options is half the battle. Locally, Santa Cruz has various programs and resources that makes saving the planet convenient for daily commuters.
Ridesharing options provide an excellent alternative to reduce traffic on the road when the commute is too far to walk or ride a bicycle. It can also give commuters the option of multitasking and reading a book or balancing the checkbook rather than staring at bumpers and white-knuckling the steering wheel. Ridesharing gives commuters the ability to get cars off the road while making the commute more enjoyable. Carpooling, vanpooling or riding the bus can transform the commute into a constructive part of the day instead of another dreaded hour in traffic.
Santa Cruz and surrounding areas offer several programs that help to get drivers together and cars off the road. Specifically, three local organizations offer information and resources for commuters looking into alternative transportation options.
Commute Solutions has been a part of the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission for more than 30 years. Commute Solutions offers ridematching services, commute trip planning for all transportation modes, incentive programs and prize drawings, as well as employer programs and other services that make commuting easier. (www.commutesolutions.org will help you identify how you can improve your commute, or call 429-POOL for free personalized commute assistance.)
Bay Area 511.org is a comprehensive phone and web-based traveler information system offered by the nine county Metropolitan Transportation Commissions. In addition to operating the ridematching service that Commute Solutions uses, it is especially helpful to commuters who work in Silicon Valley for the real-time, personalized traffic information that it provides. (511.org.)
Ecology Action supports many programs aimed at reducing waste and conserving resources, including transportation programs. They can connect you with local resources that will get you out of the car, or put more people in it. Transportation Membership Services is for employers who want to encourage sustainable transportation at the workplace with incentives in the form of discounted bus passes, zero percent interest bike loans and emergency rides home. RideSurance, a new commuter insurance policy, is now available to all Santa Cruz county commuters who use sustainable transportation. The Go Green program connects Cabrillo College students, staff and faculty with a commuting network. (To learn more about what Ecology Action might have to offer you, visit ecoact.org or call the Transportation Program Manager at 426-5925x127)
Adding people to your car for the commute lessens expenses, gets cars off the road and decreases stress. Carpooling is a great way to meet co-workers or fellow students and share the impact of commuting. Several national and local organizations are getting people where they need to go together.
Commute Solutions Free public ridematching service that connects drivers and riders looking for carpool partners. Linked with San Francisco, San Jose and Monterey ridematching database through 511.org allowing greater access for cross-county commuters. Instant matchlists available self-serve via the web 24/7 or by phone with commute consultants during business hours. (commutesolutions.org or rideshare.511.org or call 429-POOL)
RideSpring A locally owned business that offers turnkey ridematching and incentive services to employers. Santa Cruz City and County employees use this system to find carpool partners, reduce commuter traffic, and see the environmental impacts of their transportation choices. (Visit ridespring.com)
ZoomPool It connects carpoolers throughout California, and provides background check services on potential rideshare partners. (Visit zoompool.com)
Zimride is a carpooling community used at universities nationwide including UCSC. Zimriders can check out the Facebook profiles of prospective carpoolers before deciding to share a ride. UCSC students can connect with peers and find an efficient, less expensive way to class. (Visit zimride.com)
Carpool to School. Busy parents can also find some reprieve from shuttling kids back and forth to school. Some local schools are using this organization to match students and save parents’ time. (carpooltoschool.com)
Zip Car Carsharing made easy. Offering cars for members needing shorter, less frequent trips. Cars can be reserved by the hour for as low as $8. Zip Car has 10 cars available at several locations throughout Santa Cruz, and gas and insurance is paid for by Zip Car. Ninety percent of Zip Car users drive 5,500 miles or less per year making Zip Car part of the commuting solution. (zipcar.com)
If none of these options work for your schedule, start your own carpool. Connect with people at work or school that live in close proximity to you and make the commitment to reduce your carbon footprint.
Vanpools are often used by companies or large organizations with numerous commuters. Employers that are interested in saving their employees time and effort in getting to and from work or school everyday should look into vanpools. Commute Solutions has calculated an average savings of $600 a month for passengers. Leased vanpools include gas, insurance and emergency services for those interested in making the commute more communal.
Enterprise offers monthly vanpool rental programs that match employees based on proximity and shift schedule at various monthly costs per employee. (vanpool.com.)
VSPI Vanpools offers services to set employees up with existing vanpools or create new routes in areas of need. (vpsiinc.com.)
Lancer Insurance specializes in commercial auto insurance and offers rates for vanpool insurance to entities operating privately owned (non-leased) vanpool vehicles. (lancerinsurance.com.)
Commute Solutions/511.org: People looking to share a ride through this ridematching service are also provided with the names of vanpool drivers with available seats. (commutesolutions.org or call 429.POOL.) There are also numerous vanpools that are already operating out of Santa Cruz and surrounding areas.
UCSC Vanpools pick up staff, faculty and students from Santa Cruz County and surrounding areas. This is an inexpensive way to commute to the UCSC campus. For information on the 23 routes and pricing check out www2.ucsc.edu/taps/vanpoolprogram.html.
The city and County of Santa Cruz offer information about vanpools for their employees.
Commute Solutions helps interested local workplaces organize and put new commuter vanpools into service.
Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District (METRO) operates 80 busses on 41 routes throughout Santa Cruz County. These routes connect to Monterey-Salinas, Watsonville and Bay Area Transit systems allowing passengers to travel within the county and beyond. Each bus is equipped with bike racks that hold up to three bicycles, so passengers can begin or end their commute with some exercise; folding bikes are also allowed onboard. Single trip, day passes and monthly passes are offered in addition to a parallel ADA paratransit service.
Highway 17 Express, operated by METRO in conjunction with Amtrak and VTA, takes passengers from downtown Santa Cruz to San Jose. The ride lasts about an hour, offers free wireless Internet and connects commuters to who live in Santa Cruz to jobs in Silicon Valley.
More information on routes, times and fares can be found at scmtd.com or by calling METRO Customer Service at 425-8600. Use Google Transit to plan your next bus trip, visit (transit.google.com) to receive step-by-step transit directions.
Bicycles are perfect for getting around town. They don’t require gas or oil, are a completely green form of transportation and are a great way to get in shape. Here are some organizations that promote human-powered transportation:
The Bike Church, located at 703 Pacific Ave., has a stockpile of new and used bike parts, gives classes on bike mechanics and offers assistance in fixing or tuning up any bike. The Bike Church is open Monday through Saturday from 3-7 p.m. and can be reached at 425-2453.
Community Traffic Safety Coalition’s mission is to reduce traffic-related injuries, while promoting the use of alternative modes of transportation. The primary focus is on bicycle and pedestrian safety issues. The Coalition educates all road users in safety practices to decrease the risk and severity of collisions, and advocates for improved conditions to make all methods of transportation safer. (sctrafficsafety.com)
Ecology Action offers a variety of bicycle related programs such as the Folding Bikes on Buses program, a youth bike safety program called BikeSmart!, Safe Routes to School projects and Zero Interest Bike Loans and is the host of the semi-annual Bike to Work/School event in Santa Cruz County. (ecoact.org/Programs/Transportation/index.htm)
The Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission publishes a color map of Santa Cruz County bike paths, lanes, alternate bike routes and topography, provides bike parking subsidies to businesses and employers and offers a bicycle and pedestrian hazard reporting system to identify facilities that may need attention. (sccrtc.org/bike.html)
RideSurance is a program offered by Ecology Action that removes a barrier to commuters using sustainable transportation who worry about being stranded without a way home in an emergency. For an annual fee of $24, RideSurance assures a free cab ride home for participants in the event of a carpool driver falling ill, a family emergency or a need to stay late at work. Up to four emergency rides are allowed per year, which cover the cost of a taxi, including the tip. More information about RideSurance can be found at ecoact.org-/Programs/Transportation/RideSurance.
Bikes Secure is a program created by the Regional Transportation Commission to encourage more bike racks and lockers around Santa Cruz. To date, more than 2,000 bike parking spaces have been created through this program. Businesses, local jurisdictions, school districts and other public agencies in Santa Cruz County are welcome to apply for grants that would help cover the cost of getting a bike rack or locker by going to sccrtc.org/bike.html.
Bike to Work: the next Bike to Work/School day is May 20 and offers incentives, including breakfast, to encourage people to leave the car parked for the day in exchange for a bicycle commute. For more information about the next bike to work day visit to bike2work.com/s_cruz/resources.html.
Pajaro Valley Transportation Management Association This non-profit aims to reduce car trips in South County by offering a commuter club, bilingual outreach, “Just Hop on the Bus Gus” and bicycle safety programs. (vamonosamigos.org/english/transportation/pvtma.htm)
Park and Ride There are six free Park and Ride lots in Santa Cruz County, where commuters can meet up at a central location to connect with their carpool, vanpool or bus. A park and ride lot map is at commutesolutions.org/pnr.pdf
Telecommuting and Alternate Work Hours More and more companies allow their employees to work one or two days from home, or stagger work schedules to avoid peak traffic periods. Telecommuting and alternate work hours allow greater flexibility for employees with families, as well as reduce emissions and highway traffic.
NEW SUSTAINABLE TRANSPORTATION
If you find yourself in the market for a new car, hybrids and electric cars have come a long way. They may be more costly initially, but that money is recuperaed in gas money savings, not to mention saving your conscience and reducing pollution.
There are several websites that can point you in the right direction. For information about some of this new automotive technology or to compare gas mileage, safety ratings and accessories, go to autos.yahoo.com/green_center and greencars.org may be of some assistance.
Most of this information can be accessed in Santa Cruz if you’re willing to put in the leg-work. Local businesses are doing their part to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and educate locals about new sustainable automotive technology.
Diesels can be converted, relatively easily, into an engine that can process biodiesel or refined vegetable oil. Biodiesel burns cleaner (it still requires some diesel to start) and is able to run off used vegetable oil that can be found in vats outside any restaurant with a fryer. This makes biodiesel a simple and inexpensive way to clean up your transportation and reuse oil that would otherwise be wasted.
Local businesses have jumped on the biodiesel wagon and are there to help with all of your biodiesel needs.
The Green Station at 433 Ocean St., Santa Cruz, sells B99 biodiesel commercially. The price was $3.59 per gallon at the time of writing this article, making it just a little more expensive than regular diesel fuel. The Green Station is also a retailer of ZENN Neighborhood Electric Vehicles. These cars are 100 percent electric with zero emissions. They recharge within four hours and go for $6,995 after tax credits. The Green Station can be your springboard into sustainable transportation. Call them at 425-9100 for more information.
Good Guys Diesel and Bio Mechanics at 1191 Water St., Santa Cruz, has more than 12 years of experience with diesel and biodiesel. They can fix your vehicle, install biodiesel conversion kits and they even sell filtered vegetable oil (biodiesel) to get your fossil-fuel-saving vehicle out on the road. Call them at 469-8715.
EV Charging Stations
There are currently two charging stations for electric vehicles in downtown Santa Cruz. The parking garage at 601 Front St. will charge your green vehicle while you go to dinner or watch a movie. The Monterey Bay Electric Vehicle Alliance is now working to increase the number of charging stations for the entire Monterey Bay region. They hope to be ready for the new technology and changing automotive trends of the future. If you’re interested in getting involved call 688-7900 and check out the EV charging facilities already in place at: evchargernews.com/regions/-95060_1.htm
Local retailers offer vehicles that run off more than gas. If you’re interested in buying a hybrid, electric or diesel, you don’t have to go very far. Many local car dealers are offering an array of sustainable vehicles.
De Laveaga Motors and Bottomline Auto said that the Prius has been a very popular purchase in Santa Cruz. Right now they have a Tesla Roadster, a 100 percent electric high-performance sports car. This one goes for about $120,000, but if you’re looking for something less expensive, De Laveaga can broker a deal to fit your needs. Call them at 423-000 or go by 1215 Water St. and check out the new Tesla.
Ocean Honda, located at 3700 Soquel Ave. offers three hybrid options. Call 464-7907 to find out more.
Santa Cruz Nissan, Dodge, Volkswagon has the hybrid Altima as well as three diesel vehicles for sale. Call 426-5100.
North Bay Ford at 1999 Soquel Ave. has two hybrids and an array of diesel trucks. Call 457-5858.
ECO-FRIENDLY DRIVING TIPS
Saving money on gas also reduces pollution. With some simple tips, vehicles can run more efficiently and you can get the best fuel economy out of your car.
Drive the speed limit Optimal mile per gallon ratings differ, but it generally decreases rapidly above 60 mph.
Keep tires inflated Keeping tires properly inflated can improve gas mileage by 3 percent.
Remove the junk in the trunk Reducing cargo weight increases gas mileage, and improves both stopping distance and acceleration.
Modern cars no longer need to be warmed up Don’t idle and waste gas. Just get in and go.
Regular tune-ups and filter changes increase efficiency.
Choose a car with good mileage.
Walk or drive for short trips, which eliminates cold starts. The highest amount of pollution is generated at the start of the trip.
Consider your options before you go on autopilot and drive.
Combine your trips whenever possible.
More driving tips can be found at fueleconomy.gov.
Santa Cruz County has several groups that promote the use of and efforts to expand sustainable transportation options. These include:
People Power is an activist organization in Santa Cruz attempting to address the need for more human-powered traffic and fewer cars on the roads. They have been fighting for more bike lanes and paths as well as finding safe solutions for bike commuters. For more information go to: peoplepower.org.
Mission Pedestrian missionped.org
Friends of the Rail Trail santacruztrail.org
Campaign for Sensible Transportation sensibletransportation.org
Transition Santa Cruz transitionsc.org
Sierra Club ventana.sierraclub.org
Good Times, in conjunction with Commute Solutions, would like everyone to get involved and make the commitment to take part in one, or several, of the alternative transportation options available to them here in Santa Cruz.
By completing the online Commuter Resolution pledge or print version and making the commitment to change just a few transportation habits, contestants will be entered in a drawing to win prizes such as a dinner-for-two at some of Santa Cruz’s most delicious restaurants, ParkCards for bike lockers and parking meters in the city of Santa Cruz, bus passes, along with many other green-minded prizes.
Furthermore, keeping a log, detailing your commitment and achievements on the path towards a sustainable commute and a greener tomorrow, will enter you in a second drawing where even more valuable rewards can potentially be reaped. After completing this commuting resolution journal for 30 days, send it to: to be entered in the second drawing.
Hopefully, everyone’s resolution to burn less fossil fuel by choosing sustainable transportation options lasts longer than the pledge requires. It may be surprising that riding a bike or taking the bus isn’t as difficult as it may seem. It may even be enjoyable.
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