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Two years after University affiliates first started receiving free bus and trolley rides from the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority as part of the agency's contract with Brown, just under a quarter of faculty, staff and students take advantage of it each month. 

Under the statewide UPass program started in September 2007 the University pays an undisclosed flat rate for every ride by a University community member.

But despite the free ride, most University employees drive to work or use alternative modes of transit in part because of a lack of RIPTA routes near their homes , a general unfamiliarity with the system and the greater convenience from driving, said Elizabeth Gentry, assistant vice president for Financial and Administrative Services.

Only about 19 percent of faculty and staff and 26 percent of students rode RIPTA each month from July to October, according to the most recent data from Gentry's office.

Though fewer faculty and staff ride RIPTA, those who do "actually ride more often" than students, Gentry said. The data show that over the same period, the average staff rider used RIPTA almost three times as often as the average student rider and almost twice as often as the average faculty rider.

These differences might occur because staff and faculty ride for their daily commute, while students are more likely to use the service for recreation, Gentry said.

Several staff members interviewed by The Herald said the main reason they drive to work is that, despite parking problems, it is still more convenient.

Because of the time limits on parking spaces on the street — there is a long waitlist for University parking spots — some staff participate in what they call the "Brown Shuffle," running out to move their cars every two or three hours in order to avoid tickets, Gentry said.

Debra Souza, a student account representative in the Bursar's Office who finds it more convenient to drive to work, said she has been doing the "Brown Shuffle" for 30 years. She arrives on campus at about 8:30 a.m., moves her car during the morning break and moves it again at lunch, she said.

"I call it the parking relay" because many of the staff rush to move their cars at 10 a.m., said Tina M. Botelho, Gentry's executive assistant, who works in the Brown Office Building.

For Botelho, a Masschusetts resident who now has a University parking spot after several years on the waitlist, taking public transportation to work would require driving to Rhode Island, parking in a lot and taking two buses to Brown, she said.

Even within Rhode Island, using RIPTA is not feasible for some, Gentry said, noting that some areas of the state are not conveniently linked by RIPTA.

"I think (RIPTA) is really popular especially for people who are traveling in the center of Providence," said Joseph Gagne, co-chair of the Staff Advisory Committee. But it might be less so for those who live farther away, he said.

Many faculty and staff are so used to their driving routine that they simply haven't considered public transit, Gentry said.

There has been talk of creating a Buddy Day — employees who drive would be shown the RIPTA ropes by their more public transit-savvy counterparts — but the plan has "been on the back burner," she said.

But the agency is taking steps to make public transit more convenient for University riders, said Mark Therrien, assistant general manager of transit system development, planning and grants at RIPTA.

In September 2008, the agency debuted an express bus line to and from Barrington specifically geared to University employees commuting to campus.

"In the future, RIPTA intends to have more buses that go directly downtown and then to the Brown area," Therrien said, adding that "people like a one-seat ride." The agency also plans to turn the corner of Thayer and Waterman Streets into "a miniature bus hub" in the future, Therrien said.

Brown's contract with RIPTA was re-negotiated in August, and though the undisclosed per-ride rate the University pays rose as a result, the program continues to be "an important component in the whole transportation management plan," Gentry said.

For now, Brown's ridership numbers are actually pretty impressive, Therrien said.

"Believe me, in transit, if you're getting 10 percent, that's fabulous," he said.


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