UCSF Sustainability Stories

Ana Toepel and Deborah Fleischer, Green Impact, March 2018

UCSF Transportation Services Moves to Be More Sustainable

To meet the University of California (UC) system’s ambitious goal to be carbon neutral by 2025, UCSF must reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across all ten campuses, including tackling emissions from UC owned transportation fleet. Almost 2% of UCSF’s carbon footprint comes from the UCSF fleet, and transportation measures are prominent in the GHG reduction strategies outlined in UCSF’s updated 2017 Climate Action Plan (CAP).

To this end, UCSF Transportation Services has stepped up to ensure that less fossil fuels are burned while helping the UCSF community get from one campus to the other.

One strategy in the CAP is to reduce commute vehicle trips by faculty, staff, and students, and many programs have been put in place to help make this happen. A visit to the UCSF Transportation Services website demonstrates the wealth of information and programs provided to encourage and support members of the community to use alternative transportation options. Expanded carpool and vanpool programs, an improved shuttle riding system, resources for biking, and a “MyCommute” portal that makes it easy to plan a more sustainable commute are just some of the many offerings. These programs have been effective in reducing vehicle trips, encouraging These measures have been effective in reducing vehicle trips; more commuters are taking public transit, rather than driving alone, and biking and walking to work as well. In FY17, the campus single occupancy vehicle (SOV) rate was an impressive 26.1% including students and 28% without them. This is a decrease of 41% over 16 years—the the lowest rate across the ten UC campuses. This is great news, since 14% of UCSF’s carbon footprint is created by commuter travel.

Transportation Greens the Shuttle Fleet with Electric Buses

Another high priority strategy to reduce GHG emissions in UCSF’s CAP, to help meet the carbon neutrality goal by 2025, is to expand the number of clean zero carbon emissions vehicles in the university’s fleet. A Bloomberg article states that 1,000 battery-powered buses on the road saves about 500 gallons of fuel. In FY17, 17.8% of UCSF’s total fleet was zero emission vehicles (ZEVs) and hybrids. Six all-electric SMART cars replaced Enforcement Operations vehicles, two all-electric passenger vans for shuttle operations were acquired, and a contract for 15 new Build Your Dreams (BYD) electric transit buses was negotiated.

As reported by Derrick Tyler, UCSF’s Campus Fleet Manager, 13 of the 15 BYD electric buses have arrived and are “road ready” to be put into service this summer (with two more on the way). They are larger than the current shuttles, carrying up to 40 passengers, and they are also heavier and stronger, which is important due to how much these vehicles are in use. UCSF’s shuttles are run like a transit service, serving five campus locations and running all day with consistent, multiple routes. They are the UCSF community’s primary mode of transportation between campuses; 80% of people making these trips use the shuttle service. This results in approximately 8,000 riders boarding the shuttle network each day, or just over 2 million each year.

When thinking about how to green the fleet, Tyler noted, electric vehicles (EVs) proved to be the best option. Since maintenance is the greatest cost in operating the shuttle service, sturdier buses that require less maintenance were a logical choice. “The electric motor is one of the most dependable motors available; this has been true for over a century,” stressed Tyler, who has been working in transportation services most of his career. Since the new EV buses will go 130 miles per charge, and the heaviest daily shuttle run is 100 miles, they will only need to be charged once per day. All buses can be fully charged and ready to go with an average charging time of about 2 hours. Due to all these factors, the new buses are more cost effective than the current shuttles over the long term, even though they are more expensive to purchase. Funding from the Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project (HVIP) made the purchase of the 15 buses much more affordable for UCSF.

Tyler also noted that UCSF’s goal is to green the entire transit fleet by 2025. The larger goal is to ultimately have all departments with vehicles switch to zero carbon vehicles. He explained, “We are not so much piloting whether it’s feasible to have electric vehicles in the fleet; we already know that it is. It’s just a matter of evaluating their performance to figure out which are the right type and size for the topography we navigate here in the city. The process that’s required is more for that reason, rather than for deciding if it’s something we want to do.” UCSF also has plans in place to double the number of EV chargers it provides in the next few years, to make it easier for its community members to switch to electric as well.

EV Buses Deliver Benefits for the Environment and Community

These new electric buses will replace gas and diesel vehicles in the fleet of 65 total transit vehicles that are at the end of life, having zero exhaust emissions and avoiding the burning of fossil fuels. This will translate into emissions savings of 60.61 metric tons of CO2 per year, which could decrease harmful impacts on air quality, improve public health, and reduce ecological damage. The current number of shuttle riders achieves the effect of removing over 2,700 vehicles from San Francisco roads; with the new buses carrying more riders per trip, the number of vehicles removed should increase—and the positive benefits from the reduced emissions should increase as well.

Because electric motors react quickly, EVs are very responsive and passengers will experience a smoother ride. It is also a quieter experience. Another benefit for riders is that the new buses are temperature-controlled. “Riders have the benefit of knowing that they’re participating in something helpful; every time they step foot on that shuttle instead of driving, and it’s not polluting the air, it’s something that our community can feel good about. I think it’s two-fold what they take away from it. Yes, a better ride for one, but also better treatment of Mother Nature,” Tyler expressed.

You Can ‘Get on Board’ with Sustainable Transportation

Here are some easy ways you can do your part:

  • Switch to hybrid or electric. Any UCSF department that owns a vehicle or vehicles should consider switching over to a hybrid or EV. Nissan is providing rebates and incentives to the UCSF community to purchase a new 2018 LEAF through September 30, 2018.
  • Use the shuttles to travel in between any of the UCSF campuses; check here for routes, timetables, maps, and more.
  • Keep an eye out for the EV shuttle buses on campuses this summer; look for the ZEV logos. And be sure to ride one and experience the difference yourself!
  • If you are a member of the UCSF community, check out the MyCommute portal and use it to plan your next trip to or from campus in just a matter of minutes.
  • Enjoy the spring air and walk or bike—it’s a win-win! Not only will you produce zero emissions, which will benefit the environment, your health and mood will benefit too.