Policy changes & the Green Bikes Shop help Pomona College pedal towards carbon neutrality

This article was written by Leta Ames, Sustainability Intern at Pomona College, as an offshoot of research and discussions that are informing the 2016 State of Sustainability report. Similar to the 2015 report released by Sightlines and the Sustainability Institute, the new report will be published in February and will highlight key sustainability metrics for higher education.

Founded in 1887, Pomona College is a private coed liberal arts college located about 35 miles east of Los Angeles in the city of Claremont. Claremont lies in the Inland Empire, an area of Southern California with some of the worst air pollution in the U.S. Although air quality has improved since the 1970s, smoggy views of the mountains are a constant visual reminder of why it is so important to reduce our carbon emissions. Pomona has instituted many policies that not only reduce the use of cars on campus but also encourage alternative forms of transportation.

Pomona is part of a group of schools called the Claremont University Consortium, composed of five undergraduate and two graduate institutions. Although the schools share many resources, the varying parking policies have made it easier to manage the number of cars owned by students. Students must register, and pay a fee, on each campus if they wish to park there. This discourages students from driving to classes on other campuses. The varying parking policies also give each school the freedom to institute their own policies. Pomona has chosen to limit vehicles on campus by not allowing first-year students to bring cars to campus. Pomona has also discouraged driving on campus by designing the campus so that it is more bicyclist and walker friendly.

In 2007 Pomona consolidated a large number of parking spaces into a parking structure in the southern half of campus. This new parking structure allowed for the removal of parking spaces in the center of campus as well as the closure of smaller roads that run through campus. These parking spaces were converted into green spaces, pedestrian walkways, and LEED certified buildings.

In conjunction with discouraging single occupancy vehicles Pomona has invested in measures that encourage students and employees alike to share their vehicles or use alternative modes of transportation. Faculty and staff do not have to pay for parking, but those who commute by anything other than single occupancy vehicles are eligible for a monthly raffle prize and $2.00 for every day they are scheduled to work. Employees that commute by electric vehicle can charge their cars at any of the 12 charging stations on campus for free. There are also many opportunities for students to share rides or use other forms of transportation.

Since there are five undergraduate institutions, there is no shortage of events around campus, which allows students to enjoy themselves within walking distance. For those students who do wish to leave campus there are often organized trips in the surrounding area, which use the “Sagecoach” (a play on Pomona’s mascot, the sagehen), a school-owned bus. There are also communal cars available for departments and student organizations to use. The school has a 106 vehicle fleet; this includes both electric carts and cars. The fleet has one hybrid car and all of the carts are electric, making 72% of the school’s fleet alternatively fueled. Even though the remaining vehicles in the fleet are purchased by their respective departments, the Sustainability Integration Office has set standards for all vehicles purchased by the college– a Greenhouse Gas Rating of at least 5 for SUVs and at least 7 for all small automobiles. Every vehicle currently in the fleet meets these standards.

If students wish to take public transportation or carpool, there are a few resources available. Pomona is also situated within walking distance of the Claremont train station which offers lines that run all over the region including into Los Angeles. Although Pomona does not subsidize public transportation for students they do offer guides to help students explore the area without a car. Another way the school has encouraged vehicle sharing is with the 5C (all of the Claremont Colleges) Rideshare program. Over 1,000 Pomona students live outside of California, which means many students fly home during breaks. The Associate Students of Pomona College runs a website where students from any of the Claremont Colleges can find and organize shared rides to the surrounding airports. This is a widely popular service among students because not only does it help reduce emissions but also travel costs.

Green Bikes Shop

The crown jewel of Pomona’s sustainable transportation initiatives is the Green Bikes Shop. Bicycles are one of the most popular modes of transportation on campus, currently there are over 1,600 bike racks on campus with more being added every year in order to keep up with student demand. The Green Bikes Shop helps students maintain their bikes — they offer repairs and tune-ups for only the cost of parts. Along with repairs the Green Bikes Shop puts on programing throughout the year to teach people about bicycle safety and maintenance. Part of the Green Bikes Shop’s success is due to their focus on giving back to the community. Many of their events focus on traditionally marginalized groups in the cycling community, for example last year they hosted a ladies, trans, and genderqueer night. They have also partnered with other organizations to give back, including one in Watts, Los Angeles that teaches young adults how to fix and maintain bikes. On campus the Green Bikes Shop is working with the Foundations and Strategic Initiatives Department to give a bike to an Institute of International Education’s Fellow from Turkey. For the entire student body the Green Bikes Shop runs a program called the Green Bikes Program which allows students to have a bike for a semester free of charge.

At the end of school year unclaimed bikes on campus are collected and donated to the Green Bikes Shop where they are refurbished and become part of the Green Bikes Fleet. At the beginning of each semester students have the opportunity to win a raffle and use one of these bikes for the semester. Currently the fleet has over 300 bikes! This program gives all students, regardless of income, the access to sustainable transportation.

All of these programs have been very successful and are helping Pomona become more sustainable, but we are always hoping to improve. We would like to expand the faculty, staff, and student programs that encourage sustainable transportation. This might include changing the rewards program that we currently use or expanding the 5C Rideshare website so that it can be used for all rideshares, not just those to the airport. We’d also love to expand the Green Bikes Program so that students could check out bikes for shorter periods of time. One way we are considering organizing this is by giving certain clubs on campus their own smaller fleets that they can in turn manage and check out. Since almost 50 percent of our faculty and staff live within five miles of campus, we are confident that with these improvements to our programs we can have 50 percent of our commuter miles low or carbon free by 2030. This will also keep us on track to reach our goal of carbon neutrality by 2030.