Campus Transit 2000: Analyzing Student Attitudes
With a growing awareness of the many social and environmental impacts associated with poor air quality, specifically in the Kitchener -Waterloo region, it is important to investigate the sources of pollution and potential solutions in the alleviation of this social and environmental problem. Our research group, Ange Gilmore, Neill Stewart and Brennan Vogel, identified the problem of student transit to be one of the key issues associated with declining air quality in the region of Kitchener - Waterloo. Commuter transit is a leading contributor to declining air quality through the production of carbon dioxide emissions, which have a causal link to Global Climate Change, and are heavily responsible for the problems of ground-level ozone and smog. We felt that through an investigation of student attitudes with regards to public transit (the local transit authority, Grand River Transit), a valuable contribution to the body of knowledge and future sustainability initiatives of public transportation in the Kitchener-Waterloo region, specifically at the University of Waterloo, could be made. With three post-secondary institutions (University of Waterloo, Wilfred Laurier University, Conestoga College) located in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, resulting in a proportionally high number of post-secondary students, the issue of student transit is of vital social and environmental concern.
The WATgreen initiative on the campus of the University of Waterloo envisions the transformation of the campus, " into a showcase of sustainability, a true ecosystem in harmony with its environment"(http://www.adm.uwaterloo.ca/infowast/watgreen/#vision).
When considering leading sources of pollution on campus, transportation is found to be among the leading contributors. Thus, the University campus is a microcosm of the larger world, and provided an ideal testing ground for the analysis of student attitudes with regards to public transportation. As well, the campus provided an ideal location for an investigation of the means and ways of increasing socially conscious transportation initiatives among students.
The contribution of our research to the future sustainability of the University of Waterloo and transportation on campus is justified in a broader context, as the benefits associated with reducing student needs for private transportation are environmentally and socially relevant. Through the provision of insight into student attitudes towards public transit, as we have attempted to do, a knowledge base has emerged as to what can be done to increase student usage of public transit. The contribution of this knowledge is environmentally relevant in the struggle against declining air quality, as commuter transportation is among the leading contributors to carbon dioxide emissions which in turn leads to the problems of smog and ground level ozone. Also, in a global context,
carbon dioxide is leading to the processes of Global Warming and Global Climate Change, which have been established to have unpredictable effects upon the global climatic system in the future. Socially, health problems associated with declining air quality, demographic transitions in off-campus student housing and the contribution of student usage of transit to a greater sense of community, can all be listed as relevant factors in the justification of our study. According to a recent Ontario Medical Association report on declining air quality, "Air pollution will cost Ontarios health-care system and economy more than $1 billion and result in approximately 1,900 deaths this year" (http://www.oma.org/pcomm/pressrel/pr270600.htm). The synergistic nature of air quality as an environmental and social problem requires carefully attention in the formulation of solutions, as the connections between economics and environment begin to emerge. With changes to the Ontario secondary school system, Ontario Universities will be experiencing a "double cohort" of students entering the post-secondary system in 2003. Because of this phenomenon, we feel that greater pressures will be placed upon already minimal amounts of student housing in Kitchener-Waterloo, and the need for more effective public transportation catering to students, will be of vital importance. Through the emergence of "student friendly" public transit initiatives in coming years, Kitchener-Waterloo could take a lead in the greater incorporation of students into city planning and green transportation initiatives, both of which could lead to a greater sense of community co-operation.
Research Problem & Question
When designating our research problem, we wished to understand what changes were required with regards to student commuting and transit, specifically at the University of Waterloo. It was our intention to investigate the incorporation of greater student usage of local public transit, which in turn, could potentially lead to decreasing the social and environmental impacts of poor air quality and contribute to the improvement of air quality in the region. Thus, when designating our research question, we wished to investigate:
Would the students of the University of Waterloo, and potentially the students of Wilfred Laurier University and Conestoga College benefit from a more convenient local public transit system, provided through the implementation of a Universal Bus Pass or Watcard Swipe System?
By specifically focusing upon students at the University of Waterloo and their sentiments and attitudes towards transportation initiatives to enhance student ridership and usage of public transportation, we felt that we could make a valuable contribution to the future implementation of a Universal Bus Pass or Watcard Swipe System. Generally speaking, we defined the Universal Bus Pass as flat fee of 40 to 50 dollars added to tuition prices for the privilege of unlimited bus use for a semester. The ability for this Bus Pass to be refundable, as well as the form it would take (Watcard Sticker or separate Bus Pass) was ambiguous and also points of contention. The Watcard Swipe System was defined as the
debit type system that is currently in use at food service outlets, vending machine and photocopiers on campus as well as at various off-campus locations. In future studies, the
definition of the Universal Bus Pass is of vital importance in ensuring clarity and understanding among researchers and stakeholders involved in the formulation of a Universal Bus Pass plan.
The Universal Bus Pass is not new idea, whereas in contrast, the thought of the Watcard Swipe System is a relatively new idea. Initial contact between Kitchener Transit and the University of Waterloo Federation of Students was made in August of 1995.
Shortly after this initial contact Kitchener Transit created a proposal outline of the Universal Bus Pass and sent this document to the Federation of Students in October of 1995. Little was done With regards to the Universal Bus Pass after the proposal was sent out. The Federation of Students did not agree to a referendum and the issue was put a back burner until a later date.
Then in April of 1996, through the ERS 285 class "Greening the Campus", a group of students did their research project on the topic of the Universal Bus Pass. This project was titled "Campus Transit Commission", and these students surveyed 269 UW students regarding the Universal Bus Pass.
In September of 1998, a UW student named Preet Jaswal completed a paper on the "Advantages and Disadvantages of the Universal Bus Pass at the University of Waterloo".
The next series of events came about a year and a half later in May of 2000. The Region of Waterloo meet with University of Waterloo staff, as well as the Federation of Students to discuss the potential and feasibility of the Watcard being used for payment of public transit. The Region of Waterloo agree to investigate with smart card companies (a new technology that is being implemented into public transit whereby payment of transit is done through prepaid cards) to see if it is possible for the Watcard to be incorporated into this new system.
This bringing the situation to its present state. Through the ERS 285 class, another group of students took this topic into view to further analyze the feasibility of the possible implementation of the Universal Bus Pass or Watcard Swipe System at the University of Waterloo. This project, called "Campus Transit 2000" surveyed 267 UW students obtaining information on their thoughts and feeling With regards to the current public transit system and if they would prefer the implementation of a Universal Bus Pass or a Watcard Swipe System and why they would prefer it.
With regards to the Universal Bus Pass our research group did some preliminary research on the use of this system among other Universities in Ontario. In Ontario currently there are approximately four or five Universities having a mandatory bus pass.
A key focus was the University of Guelph in that this school and city is comparable to that of the University of Waterloo. So far University of Guelphs bus pass program has encountered minimal problems, and the general thought is that the system is effective.
Several stakeholders come into play in this issue. With regards to key stakeholders there are four main groups. The first being the federation of students of the University of Waterloo. The Federation of Students are a primary actor in this issue because in order to obtain permission to implement a Universal Bus Pass they would initially have to agree to support the implementation of the pass. As well, their funding would be needed to assist in a referendum that would allow the students of the University of Waterloo to vote for or against the implementation of the Universal Bus Pass.
In addition to the Federation of Students, the University of Waterloo administration would also play a key role in the implementation of the pass or Watcard Swipe System. The administration would be responsible for adding the extra fee to students tuition for the Universal Bus Pass. As well they would be responsible for most of the public relations involved with the initial implementation as well they would serve as an information base to most students With regards to this topic.
Grand River Transit (GRT) is another key stakeholder here. Besides their obvious importance of providing public transit, GRT also would need to assist in the funding of a referendum at the University of Waterloo for the bus pass. With regards to the Watcard Swipe System GRT would need to agree to the implementation of the swipe machines onto the city buses. They would also need to improve their current transit system in order to be more convenient and feasible for all students to use if the pass was implemented.
Another key actor in the issue is the Municipality of Waterloo. The Municipality comes into play here because they give funding to GRT. Therefore, perhaps some of the money for a referendum and also for improving the transit system as a whole, would be obtained through the Municipality of Waterloo.
There are also secondary actors that play a role With regards to the issue of the Universal Bus Pass. The other two post-secondary institutions in the Kitchener-Waterloo area (Wilfrid Laurier University, Conestoga College) bring a new light on the situation as well. With students from these schools potentially participating in the Universal Bus Pass or swipe card system, would bring in more users and more money to public transit, which would therefore assist in creating an even more user-friendly public transit system, contributing to a large percentage of students using public transit.
Future students of the University of Waterloo are also secondary actors. With the double cohort of students entering the post-secondary system in 2003, we will see a greater number of UW and Wilfrid Laurier students forced to move out of Waterloo and
into the Kitchener area because of housing shortages. As a result of this many more students will have a serious need for public transit, thus making the Universal Bus Pass a feasible, convenient, safe, and cost effective means of transportation. Another factor of mention is that if GRT was a easy, feasible and convenient and cost-effective system that UW and WLU students enjoyed using, this would potentially lessen the number of cars purchased by students forced to move into the city of Kitchener.
The general public of the area also serve as secondary actors in this issue. With GRT improving its overall transit system there is the potential for an increase in the number of users amongst the communitys of Kitchener-Waterloo. This would therefore get more people using transit and less people driving their personal vehicles. This potentially would lessen poor air quality in the K-W area.
Our research groups main objective was to gain an understanding of the thoughts and feelings of the students of the University of Waterloo With regards to their view of public transit and the implementation of a Universal Bus Pass or Watcard Swipe System. We looked at several different levels of student feelings.
In a breakdown, we wished to gain understanding of the level of public transit use by the students of the University of Waterloo. We were also curious why UW students do or do not use public transit. Our group also wished to understand UW students feelings With regards to public transit, what they felt were GRTs strong points and also how it could improve its overall service.
For this research project our group felt the most effective way to obtain UW students thoughts and feelings on public transit was to conduct a survey of the students themselves.
The survey approach taken was that of a non-probabilistic sampling technique. Non-probabilistic sampling is a set of sampling techniques where the probability of choosing each sampling unit is unknown or even impossible to know (Palys, 1997). We felt that this type of sampling technique best fit our interests and criteria for our study because this technique is optimal when the sampling frame is unavailable as well as when a creative means must be taken to locate "closet" samples (Ibid).
Unfortunately, there are drawbacks to this style of sampling. Non-probabilistic sampling does not ensure a representative sample, in addition it also makes it impossible to compute the probable degree of sampling error that is present (Ibid).
However, this is not to say that there are no benefits from a non-probabilistic sample. From here we chose to follow a purposive sampling method, where the people or locations are intentionally sought out because they have met some sort of criteria for
inclusion in your study, they are chosen for their theoretical or practical interests (Ibid,137). This technique plainly does not aim for formal representativeness, but it does prove to be cost effective, and in addition, it was the most sensible With regards to our stringent time restraints.
From a purposive sampling technique we surveyed through maximum variety sampling. This technique differs from that of random sampling where acquiring the "typical" respondent is emphasized, maximum variety sampling emphasizes sampling for diversity (Ibid,138). For our survey we wished to obtain information from all types of students from every faculty, by doing this we hoped to find the most accurate and credible information given our unrepresentative sampling techniques.
As our research group got further into the study we began to realize the gaps of our research techniques, as well as some of the problems of our survey. As was proved as our survey ended no one in the research group had a clear and concise conception of what the Universal Bus Pass or Watcard Swipe System was or what exactly it entailed of.
As we had meeting with GRT we began to gain a more concrete understanding of exactly what these two system are.
Another limitation of mention was the fact that this study was done in the summer term. This itself is a series of crucial limitations. First, with the number of students in the summer term dropping dramatically this leaves an abundance of cheap, affordable housing in the nearby area of the University of Waterloo, thus leaving students with little need of public transit. Second we have the climatic factor, because of the beautiful summer weather more students are apt to walk to school. In addition, with the nice weather more students are biking to school, some from as far as the south end of Kitchener, who would most likely not be using this means of transportation in the winter months.
Our research group understands that there is little that could have been done With regards to these particular limitations, but we do wish that this topic is expanded upon as to get a representative sample in both a fall and winter terms. We hope that these actions would give a more accurate and credible conclusions.
The survey itself was also a limitation. As our research group began to survey around campus we all began to notice unforeseeable problems with the survey itself. We began to notice that the survey was not fully comprehendible or holistic. ??????
To mention some of the specific problems to our survey we would like to point out, as already mentioned, the unclear definitions of the two systems was a significant
problem. Also some of the survey questions were open-ended and ambiguous, which left some respondents not wanting to answer all of the given questions. In addition, some of the survey questions were not applicable to everyone, therefore as a result some questions were left blank.
We also began to realize that our survey in some areas was difficult to understand and for some students proved to be too time consuming, with these students usually on their way to class or on their way home, having little time to stop to fill out a survey.
Our research group strongly feels that this was very much only a pilot study to investigate the ways in which GRT, the University of Waterloo and the Federation of Students could improve transit for the students of the University of Waterloo and potentially the students of Wilfred Laurier University, and Conestoga College. As mentioned earlier, we feel that the only way to gain complete understanding of this issue is through further elaboration of student opinions in fall and winter terms.
Reactivity also came into play in this research project. For starters, on the top of our survey was a header with the faculty and course number, so everyone surveyed were aware that our research group was from the Environment Resource Studies program. This could have potentially thrown bias into the respondents answers to some of the questions therefore skewing the overall results of the survey. As well, With regards to reactivity, with the unclear knowledge of the Universal Bus Pass and Watcard Swipe System, our group feels that with the inconsistency of the explanation and definition of these two systems could have very well skewed the respondents answers.
Through the conduction of this research, our group was able to arrive at some useful conclusions regarding the sentiments and attitudes of University of Waterloo students, particularly with regards to public transit and the implementation of the Universal Bus Pass or Watcard Swipe System. These conclusions were at both quantitative and qualitative levels.
Quantitatively, some of the key findings of our survey were:
In analyzing these quantitative conclusions, we have found that perhaps UW students would prefer the Watcard Swipe System because this is what they are more familiar with, as it is already widely used in many locations both on and off campus. With summer term, students are able to live closer to campus for very affordable rates thus; there is little need for students to use public transit which likely contributes to student dislike of the idea of the Universal Bus Pass. Presumably, most students felt that the Watcard Swipe System would be a fairer initiative to be undertook, as it allows students to pay for transit if and when they choose to use it. Most students surveyed did not think it would be fair to have mandatory fee for the Universal Bus Pass added to their tuition statement, but again the issues of refundability and the definition of the Universal Bus Pass comes into question. With regards to GRT making initial attempts to improving service for students and catering to the needs of a student population, increasing the frequency of their pick-ups can be interpreted to mean that busy students on tight timelines are dissatisfied with waiting for buses, and slow service.
Qualitatively, some of the conclusions that we have drawn from our research include:
Our research group realizes that this research project is among the first of many steps in the realization of a co-operative student related transportation venture and/or initiative between the University of Waterloo and Grand River Transit. By beginning to identify the many problems and obstacles that need to be overcome in this process, and offering insight into various ways of approaching these issues, we feel that a valuable contribution to the body of knowledge and future sustainability of transportation at the University of Waterloo, has been made.
Take a long-term, holistic approach to the building of partnerships between GRT and University of Waterloo to promote progressive and innovative student transit initiatives
Improving communication between GRT and the University of Waterloo
Improving awareness and education of public transit on campus
Creation of a committee specifically designated to the task of promoting cooperative initiatives between GRT and the University of Waterloo to facilitate the possible implementation of a Universal Bus Pass or Watcard Swipe System, Federation of Students Environment Commission
Continuation of these sorts of studies in future ERS 285 classes to gain truly accurate picture of what student attitudes towards GRT are