Webster University seeks to help students’ transportation woes

Webster faculty and students ride the Metrolink to the Citizens for Modern Transit meeting on Sept. 23 to gain ideas regarding the transportation of students.

The Shrewsbury Metrolink screeched to a stop as four Webster University students joined two faculty and staff members aboard. They rode the Metrolink downtown on Friday, Sept. 23, to an annual meeting held by the Citizens for Modern Transit (CMT), an organization that works to improve public transportation in St. Louis. The journey downtown for CMT’s meeting was only the beginning of a much longer journey to improve public transit options for Webster students and St. Louis residents.

For the first time, Webster University purchased a $500 table this year at CMT’s 27th annual meeting and luncheon at the Renaissance Grand Hotel. Between 250 and 300 people attended the meeting, hoping to learn more about public transit and techniques used by other cities that might help improve public transportation in St. Louis.

Six of the eight students, faculty and staff in attendance used the Metrolink as transportation to the Renaissance Grand Hotel downtown.
Barb Ehnes, Director of Media and Community Relations at Webster and a CMT board member, thought the meeting would be of interest to Webster University. The close proximity of the Shrewsbury Metrolink  to Webster, along with a recent spike in student interest in sustainability, contributed to Ehnes’ wish for Webster’s presence at CMT’s meeting.

“It’s (the) combination of the proximity we (Webster) now have to Metrolink opportunities, and also the desire of the students to be more sustainable,” Ehnes said.

Jennifer Violett, University Center assistant director and Commuter Council adviser, said the bus schedule often dictates a student’s involvement on campus. She thinks if public transportation was more convenient, more students would take advantage of the opportunity.

“Our students are on the roads and in those cars,” Violett said. “We could do better to help people be more sustainable and work with transit.”

At the meeting, CMT elected board members and presented awards. They also hosted speaker Scott Bernstein, Co-Founder and President of the Center for Neighborhood Technology.
Through examples of other cities, Bernstein discussed ways St. Louis could improve its current public transportation system and the possible benefits improvement would have on the area’s economy and environment.

“In general, we’ve gone the wrong way,” Bernstein said. “We are investing to promote consumption and throughput instead of to build efficient communities, increase productivity and lower the cost of living.”

Bernstein explained that property values often rise when public transit is present because transportation expenses and cost of living decrease. He encouraged everyone to work together in the St. Louis area in order to improve the city’s current public transportation.

“We (at Webster) are definitely part of that, even though Webster is a relatively small school,” Violett said.

Transportation is not only an issue at the Webster Groves home campus.

“We have a lot of students who literally live, work, play and now are being educated in downtown St. Louis,” Nicole Roach, Old Post Office Campus Director, said.

Roach said students are becoming more financially and sustainably aware when it comes to public transit. She would like to see public transportation available to transport students between the home campus and the downtown post office campus more efficiently. She said she would also like to see a shuttle service transport students from the main campus to the Shrewsbury MetroLink stop.

“We are getting more and more students who are wanting that option for transportation,” Roach said.

Ehnes said she thought the Webster Commuter Council, as well as its adviser Violett, would be particularly interested in learning more about public transit. Ehnes also extended an invitation to the Webster Students for Environmental Sustainability (WSES).

“I think that is the right group, the commuters and the sustainability,” Ehnes said.

Ehnes, Roach, Violett and Oren Yagil, Special Assistant to the President, all attended. Three students from WSES—Lindsey Heffner, Kris Parsons and Claire Luning—and one student from the Commuter Council, Sean Barber, also attended.

Claire Luning will present on the possible creation of a transportation task force at the Delegates Agenda on Oct. 4. Luning attended CMT’s meeting and luncheon to prepare herself for the Delegates Agenda presentation. She said the transportation task force is about “finding creative solutions.”

“Adding more parking doesn’t necessarily make Webster a commuter friendly campus,” Luning said. “You need to embrace all commuters regardless of method of transportation.”

Ehnes joined the CMT board in February 2011. Both Washington University and UMSL have representatives on the board as well. According to CMT, students traveling to school represent 10 percent of Metrobus and seven percent of Metrolink passengers.

“If we could make metro sexy on campus, I would definitely be down for that,” Kris Parsons, WSES vice-president, said. “It (public transit) benefits everyone.”

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