The Commute Challenge to a College Campus’s Green Goal

You are here

MTI researchers examine campus-wide travel to evaluate alternate methods to estimating GHGs from campus commuters
December 17, 2019
San José, CA

College campuses are increasingly committed to reducing their carbon footprint, especially in the way of commute-generated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) researchers examined some of the challenges associated with estimating campus-generated GHG emissions and evaluated ways to address those challenges in “Moving from Walkability.”

Using campus community surveys from California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly SLO), the researchers analyzed changes in mode shares for commutes to and from campus in 2015, 2018, and 2019. In 2018 and 2019, automatic traffic counters and origin destination mobile device data were included in the data collection. The inclusion of the counters and mobile data revealed that the previous, survey-only based findings, excluded infrequent, but potentially long trips by campus visitors.

The report findings revealed:

  • Between 2018-2019, the frequency of travel to campus by individual members of the campus community did not increase;
  • The average commute distance increased one mile;
  • The share of commute trips taking place by single-occupancy vehicles increased from 35% to 40%.

“The results suggest that despite commute initiatives to reduce GHGs—such as restricted campus parking and student-housing developments—the campus population has become more car-dependent over time” says report co-author Dr. Anurag Pande. This increase is the result of students moving out of campus housing as they age and procuring a car once the first-year campus parking restriction was lifted. 


At the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) at San Jose State University (SJSU) our mission is to increase mobility for all by improving the safety, efficiency, accessibility, and convenience of our nation's’ transportation system. Through research, education, workforce development and technology transfer, we help create a connected world. MTI was founded in 1991 and is funded through the US Departments of Transportation and Homeland Security, the California Department of Transportation, and public and private grants. MTI is affiliated with SJSU’s Lucas College and Graduate School of Business.


Try Kawahara is a master’s candidate in Civil Engineering at Cal Poly State University. Bo Liu is a Ph.D. student in urban planning at UCLA. Dr. Anurag Pande is an MTI Research Associate and Associate Professor of Civil Engineering at Cal Poly. Dr. Calvin Thigpen is a policy research manager at Lime and formerly a post-doctoral researcher at Arizona State University. Dr. Carole Turley Voulgaris is an MTI Research Associate and Assistant Professor of Urban Planning at Harvard Graduate School of Design.



Irma Garcia, MTI Communications & Workforce Development Coordinator



Contact Us

SJSU Research Foundation   210 N. 4th Street, 4th Floor, San Jose, CA 95112    Phone: 408-924-7560   Email: