Access MIT Provides Flexible Commuting Options
and an Opportunity for Meaningful Personal Action
On June 14, 2016, Executive Vice President and Treasurer Israel Ruiz announced the inception of Access MIT, a new vision for commuting to and from MIT. Its initial phase provides more day-to-day commuting choice to faculty, staff, and postdocs on the Cambridge campus and makes a strong effort to align the financial and environmental objectives of individuals and the Institute. In short, for employees who park in lots with electronic gates, parking will no longer be an annual sunk cost. Instead these parkers will pay by the day and have access to zero cost subway and local bus right inside their MIT ID cards. Taking public transit, biking, or sharing a ride with a colleague on days you don’t park becomes the cheapest option, making the savvy financial choice also an environmentally friendly one. The Institute benefits as well, because lowering the demand for parking also reduces traffic congestion and provides an opportunity to rethink how much space we dedicate to parking lots in future planning efforts.
Details of the program are summarized in the table below. Faculty, staff, and postdocs who opt-in will enjoy unlimited use of MBTA subway lines and local buses. Faculty and staff who park in gated MIT lots will pay a daily cost of $10, or $5 in an economy lot – both have a cap to ensure that parkers do not pay more than the regular annual rate. Those who use commuter rail, express buses, and ferries will enjoy an increased monthly pass subsidy. Those who park at MBTA stations will receive a 50 percent subsidy for parking fees, subject to a monthly cap. Occasional use of commuter rail and ferry services are not yet included, only because current ticketing does not work with the existing chip technology that is embedded in MIT IDs.
The Institute Committee for Transportation and Parking, comprised of faculty, staff, and students, was pleased to develop the Access MIT initiative after the Committee had been charged to boldly redefine commuting at MIT. The Committee worked with stakeholders to develop a vision that prioritized flexibility, urban mobility, and environmental and community health as part of the commuting experience. As noted by Fred Salvucci in his article in this issue of the Faculty Newsletter, the work of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering Transit Lab faculty, staff and graduate students has provided the foundation for the new suite of programs. During the development stage, the Committee received input from focus groups and continues to invite feedback from members of the Institute community.
Several aspects of the new program merit brief highlights:
- Choice. Some members of our community use cars every day, for a variety of reasons. Access MIT does not penalize those who cannot or choose not to find alternatives to driving. The accumulated cost of daily parking costs will be capped at an annual total that is based on the annual parking fee still in place for ungated lots.
- Peace of mind. Some parents or others with caregiving responsibilities drive to campus so they can quickly help family members if needed. MIT pays for emergency rides home for those who walk, bike, ride the T, or take other shared modes.
- Economics. Parking facilities at MIT are increasingly expensive. Those with memories of campus in past decades or an eye for historical photographs know that the days of ample surface parking on campus are long over. The price the Institute charges for parking has increased steadily and significantly over the last decade, though it remains well below the current market rate. The cost to build underground parking, as found in large garages at Stata and Sloan, now runs about $150,000 per space to build. In the future, garages will provide an increasingly large fraction of the total inventory. The total capital, interest, and operating cost amortized over a 40-year life of a garage parking spot is over $7,500 per year. The programs that are part of Access MIT represent a financial carrot to complement rising parking prices: a cost-saving incentive to consider taking transit, biking, walking, or carpooling when possible.
Some might argue that changes to parking fees discourage driving to work, and therefore limit the interaction of faculty, staff, and students that is at the heart of a brick-and-mortar institution. Access MIT, however, seeks to encourage this vital interaction by providing free bus and subway rides to the Institute for employees. Further, it provides this same benefit to walkers, bikers, and those who already use public transportation, encouraging even short visits to campus on any day of the week and at any time.
4. Environment. Getting to campus on foot, by bike, or on the T benefits the local environment and contributes to the Institute’s goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A gallon of gasoline weighs about 2.9 kg, 87% of which is carbon. Its combustion produces 8.9 kg of CO2, which will linger in the atmosphere and oceans for a very long time.
MIT’s Climate Action Plan affirms the need for scientific discovery but also emphasizes that technology alone is not sufficient. The Plan states: “Addressing this global problem will take deep societal change. That means there is a role – and a personal responsibility – for everyone: every nation, every sector, every institution, every firm, every individual human being. We aim to help inform and inspire a broad societal movement to find climate solutions. We hope you will find your own opportunity, in our plan or elsewhere, to make a difference.” Access MIT provides an opportunity for meaningful personal action.
Cars are also a source of traffic congestion, noise and (non-carbon) pollution, including NOx and particulates. Airborne pollutants have health consequences, even when concentrations are below those specified in EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards. The City of Cambridge in particular will be a better home for its residents if Access MIT lessens urban traffic.
5. Living Laboratory. Access MIT is a campus-wide experiment. At one point in its development, the Transportation and Parking Committee considered a smaller experiment, which would compare the commuting choices of two or three cohorts, one of which would have been subject to existing (and lesser) benefits. Instead, there was a decision to implement the new program for the benefit of all. The Institute will spend an appreciable amount of money to encourage alternatives to driving, with the hope (bolstered by evidence of the efficacy of programs elsewhere, as assessed by the Transit Lab) that these subsidies will lead to lower costs to develop parking infrastructure. The announced goal of the revised parking benefits and costs is to reduce on-campus demand for parking by 10 percent in two years. A 10 percent decrease roughly translates into leaving the car at home two days per month and saving parking fees and operating expenses for the car. The program will be shaped in coming years by careful study of shifts in mobility.
6. Interactive data. Student researchers in the Transit Lab, in collaboration with the Parking and Transportation Office, helped develop and pilot an online dashboard to enable the MIT community to better manage their commutes. “AccessMyCommute,” which is now accessible via an individual’s Atlas commuting page, allows each of us to track and plan our commutes, identify other MIT employees interested in carpooling in our area, and win prizes for more sustainable commutes. In the coming year, the Transit Lab will continue to work with MIT faculty and staff to launch contests, develop new features, and better understand what motivates commuter behavior.
MIT has attracted a booming biotech and infotech community in East Cambridge and the assembled intellectual capital has global importance. Access MIT represents an evolving vision about how faculty, staff, and postdocs can reach campus – and travel through the Boston area – in ways that acknowledge the vitality of our dense urban neighborhood and provide choices of how we contribute to and interact with it. With the participation of the MIT community, the program will realize its potential to become a model for other institutions in our surrounding area.