An Interview with Jared Coleman, Director of Parking and Transportation Services at The University of Akron. Pictured above, Coleman riding a scooter.
Universities across the country are making crucial adjustments to campus life during COVID-19. In this series, we connect with campus administrators to share stories and data around the role of e-scooters in the transportation ecosystem of many college campuses.
We recently caught up with Jared Coleman, Director of Parking and Transportation Services at The University of Akron. He and his colleagues launched an e-scooter program with Spin at the beginning of the fall semester.
Spin: Jared, can you tell us about the transportation planning you did for Fall 2020 in this unique environment? What were the key challenges and goals?
Jared: Well this was a year unlike any other. In March, everything briefly shut down because of the pandemic, and March is when we are really in the midst of our planning cycle, and a lot of decisions are typically being made that affect the fall semester operations. We spent months figuring out how to provide safe services and facilities in the fall. We made multiple versions of every plan, budget, and scenario, and decisions didn’t get made until much later than they normally would. We buckled down and we got it done. All things considered, we had a pretty smooth opening to our fall semester.
Spin: How has your role of overseeing transportation changed due to the pandemic?
JC: While my oversight of transportation services has always happened at both the strategic and tactical levels, I had to get much more involved in details this semester, such as planning for safe shuttle bus services, how we want to install plexiglass, and what type of dividers to use for the seating for social distancing. We’re spending a lot of time and resources disinfecting. One of the steps we took this fall was that we changed the way we issued parking permits, moving fully online. That’s a change that I’m glad we made.
Spin: How did bringing scooters to campus for the first time factor into your overall planning?
JC: It gave me a little bit of peace of mind, especially when I was concerned about shuttle capacity. We are operating at 50% capacity for shuttles due to the safety measures we have to enact for COVID-19. Thankfully, we have not actually had any times this fall where we’ve had people waiting because a shuttle is full. The scooters let me move forward with a little more confidence, knowing that another option exists for those who want to use it.
Spin: How is the scooter program playing out so far?
JC: So far, so good. The very first day the scooters were on campus, I walked the campus and I was pleasantly surprised to see how many students were using them. One of my biggest concerns before we launched was how many complaints I was going to get from faculty and staff — particularly when it came to where scooters were being parked. I was expecting to hear about scooters blocking doorways or accessible paths, but I really didn’t get any of that; that was a very pleasant surprise.”
Spin: What was the risk-reward calculation you made in deciding to bring scooters to campus?
JC: Because the program was funded by user fees and there was no burden of management by the university, it minimized the risk side of that calculation for me. For us, the biggest concern became emphasizing student safety. We established a geofence around the center of campus with the highest pedestrian traffic, further limiting speeds within that geofence, and we developed guidelines for safe use.
Ultimately, this is a benefit for our students, and we’re always looking for ways to improve their experience on campus. It kind of seemed like a no-brainer. It was relatively low risk and having another option that would supplement our existing shuttle system given the reduced capacity was a great reward. That really put this over the top.
Spin: How do you envision micromobility continuing to be a part of your transportation strategy on campus in the future?
JC: One of the things that I’m most excited about with the scooter program is that it’s really going to help us get people to think outside the box and not rely on the personal automobile as much, which has been a challenge in this area of Northeast Ohio; it’s very much a culture of the personal car. When I first saw so many students riding scooters, I thought that this might make them reach that ah-ha moment and realize they can actually move around in a way that is pretty fast, pretty convenient, actually lets them enjoy the outdoors a little more, and is fun. The scooters may, in that way, encourage more people to walk or ride a bicycle as well! Our university is nestled right next to Downtown Akron. We care about more than just transportation on campus, but also getting individuals to and from campus, and connecting them to downtown. The scooter program will most definitely help with that.
Although only about 20% of University of Akron students are taking classes on campus this fall semester due to the global pandemic, over 13,000 trips have been taken since the program launched on August 24, with an average of 15 minutes per trip.
Learn more about our partnership with University of Akron: