I confess that my basketball allegiences probably made me increase my snark in this regard, but for years now I've been griping that during my four and a half years of working at Duke, I had to pay every time I rode a Durham Area Transit Authority bus, but now that I work at UNC, I can ride the Durham bus system for free. Yes, even though UNC is in Chapel Hill, and Duke in Durham, UNC was paying for its employees to ride on Durham transit while Duke was not.
This was, of course, a simplification. Because I joined UNC's Commuter Alternatives Program (CAP), under which I agreed to forgo my right to buy a parking pass for a year, UNC gives me a yearly Triangle GoPass for free, under which I get unlimited rides on Durham, Raleigh, Cary, and Triangle Transit buses. (The Chapel Hill/Carrboro is always fareless, of course, so the pass isn't necessary there.)
Well, thanks to some welcome news out of Duke, I can snark no more. In a news release near the end of July, Duke announced that the GoPass will be available to all Duke students as well as employees who work on or near one of the main campuses or at American Tobacco. (Duke has posted an eligibility map for the program online to make more sense of that definition.)
I'd love to be able to post this story without editorializing, but I just can't. To my eye, this is a most welcome, long overdue change in Duke's policy.
For years, institutionally, Duke has regarded alternative transportation with a skeptical eye. In the original regional rail plans put forward over a decade ago, Duke's opposition over the asthetics of a rail stop at Duke Hospital caused Triangle Transit to abandon the station and end the line at Ninth St., a move that removed the most dense employment stop from the line, and which some (including me) partially blamed for the insufficient ridership projections that led to the failure of federal funding.
Bicycle advocates for years grumbled about Duke's hesitancy to put bicycle racks on its main quads, on the grounds that they weren't the look that Duke wanted to project. As to buses, Duke for years has seen its own (somewhat decrepit) bus fleet as the solution to connecting parking with offices.
I have no sources inside the university these days, so I have no insight into what caused the change of heart. I could speculate on parking crunches finally becoming too onerous for its construction plan to bear, or employee complaints about rising parking fees reaching a dull roar, but it's just guessing.
However, I think this move is a great step for all parties involved. Duke may potentially see on-campus parking demand drop by over a thousand spaces; our local bus systems get a boost of cash, and perhaps more importantly, an increase in the ridership numbers that help them qualify for federal transit subsidies; badly snarled area roads get fewer single passenger vehicles; and of course Duke employees get a break on gas and car maintenence for getting to work.
Duke does end up having to buy these passes, and it loses out on parking revenue, but I can't help but suspect that the ever-increasing demand for parking spaces on campus was starting to make that revenue seem less and less enticing.
In any case, wherever the change of heart came from, good job, Duke. This Durhamite, at least, thanks you.