Matt Crowley/The AS Review

With the myriad of alternative transportation options available to Western students, it’s hard to believe so many still use cars on a daily basis.

According to data gathered by the Office of Survey Research, in 2010 two-thirds of students had a car available for use in Bellingham, while 17 percent of students said they drove alone to school at least three times a week.

For students that own vehicles, the benefits seem obvious: less hassle and more freedom to go where you want, when you want. As for the drawbacks, Alternative Transportation Coordinator Emily Kraft says having a car can really hurt your wallet.

“Mainly I would say for students it’s cost. I think students probably don’t even realize how much money it takes to maintain and drive a car,” Kraft said. “When you think about money, I think the first thing that comes to mind is gas and maintenance costs, but you also have to take into consideration things like insurance, parking tickets, tolls, all that different stuff. It’s really expensive for students and the second your car breaks down you’re looking at a ton of money and a lot of hassle.”

The risk of parking tickets is one downside to owning a car. Photo by Joe Rudko/The AS Review.

Kraft, along with the Associated Students Sustainable Transportation Office, believes students shouldn’t have cars unless a vehicle is absolutely necessary. Reasons range from the aforementioned cost issues to some of the more indirect effects having a car in college can have, especially if you’re still getting used to your new surroundings.

“I think it’s important for freshman to try being at Western without a car, because I think a big part of going to college is living away from home, and having a car means you’re going home a lot and it impedes your ability to really feel comfortable at school and make friends and all that important stuff,” Kraft said.

Of course, there are obvious reasons as well. For students taking more than six credits, the $25 Alternative Transportation Fee is included in tuition, meaning whether you use it or not, you’re paying for it.

“For the amount we pay I think it’s very valuable,” said Western sophomore Marcus Amundson. “Plus, if we’re being forced to pay for it we might as well get our money’s worth, right?”

While most students might think the Whatcom Transportation Authority only provides service to local areas, the STO provides a number of guides to get you from Bellingham to places like Seattle and Tacoma for around $5, all using public transportation.

They also provide regional trip planning, a useful and free resource that may not be known to most students. If you’re looking to get somewhere cheaply, Kraft and the STO will create a personalized trip planner to get you where you need to go.

“We try to get as much info out to students as possible, and make sure that bus passes and schedules are always available,” said Sustainable Transportation Program Assistant Wendy Crandall.

While students might too often choose convenience over price and environmental efficiency, it won’t stop Western from doing everything it can to help change their minds.

Western’s STO recently created the “Picture My Commute” photo contest, an opportunity for those who choose options besides drive-alone commutes (walk, bike, carpool, etc.) to work or school to be rewarded. Interested parties can submit their pictures online at www.wwu.edu/transportation/picture for a chance to win a $25 or $50 gift card to the AS bookstore.

Going even further, by choosing to utilize the alternative transportation resources available, students can impact the community in even more positive ways than they might think.

“When you look at the bigger picture, you can talk about how alternative transportation is good for the planet, but everybody knows that. It’s also really beneficial to the community as a whole,” said Kraft. “Having a campus that encourages alternative transportation also encourages students to live closer to campus if there’s a good transit system. It helps maintain Western as a community.”