Gavin Derleth: It’s time the Vex goes ‘green’

Like most freshmen, I usually lose a few hours of my week riding the Vern Express. I take the Vex at least four times a week to get to classes on the Mount Vernon Campus and back to my residence hall on the Foggy Bottom Campus. One day while waiting to board one of the white buses, I saw a shuttle approach with a biodiesel hybrid sticker. It was the only Vex I’ve ever seen with that kind of classification. For the first time, I considered that the Vex doesn’t just have an impact on how fast students can get from West Hall to the Marvin Center. It also has an impact on the environment.

The Vex is rather successful in shuttling students between campuses, even if we have our small complaints. But because the Vex is such a big part of students’ lives at GW, officials should work on making the system even more environmentally friendly and using it to promote the University’s commitment to sustainability.

As of now, GW doesn’t have any electric busses. And while a few seem to be biodiesel hybrids, it isn’t a Vex-wide policy. It makes more sense financially and environmentally for GW to switch to all-electric busing on campus. GW should recognize that electric buses are a long-term sustainable solution to transportation and should either rent buses from a company that has environmentally friendly buses or should make an investment in its own busing system.

Media Credit: Cartoon by Lauren Roll
Cartoon by Lauren Roll

Other universities recently have made their campuses’ modes of transportation more environmentally friendly, and GW ought to look to these universities for guidance. The University of California at Los Angeles has used compressed natural gas buses for some time, and the school got rid of its last two diesel buses last month. The University of Montana purchased fast-charging electric buses to move toward its goal of zero emissions. Though UCLA may have a significantly larger endowment and number of students than GW, GW’s endowment far outnumbers the endowment of the University of Montana. If it is reasonable for smaller universities to take up the cost in order to help the environment, then GW ought to make this financial commitment to reducing its carbon footprint.

University President Steven Knapp has committed to multiple sustainable energy plans. Back in 2012 Knapp promised to recycle half of the University’s total waste produced by 2017, reduce light pollution in construction projects and purchase more food from local sources. But officials haven’t yet made the Vex more sustainable.

“GW does not currently own any electric buses,” University spokesman Tim Pierce said in an email. “However, we continue to explore new technology and sustainable sources as they are developed to determine if they could be implemented on our campuses.”

If the Vex is the only viable option for the University to transport students between campuses, then it is important that officials consider the implications that running a busing service has on the surrounding environment and community. Just as the University reminds us to recycle in our rooms by providing different trash cans, officials have to consider the implications that come with running a daily shuttle service with diesel fuels.

The University wouldn’t necessarily have to spend tons of money on the shift: One option would be for GW to negotiate with International Limousines to offer an electric or compressed natural gas alternative. Or the University could then invest themselves in a fleet of shuttles that are environmentally friendly, without having to negotiate with a third-party company. In the long run, this might actually be a less expensive option for the University: The Proterra bus service can save owners up to $700,000 in costs over a 12-year period.

The University has shown that it takes going green seriously, but it is time for officials to focus on the transportation policies. GW would fit in with other universities by adding a fleet of electric or sustainable buses. University officials realize climate change is a pressing problem, and this is a way to try and solve it.

This is an opportunity for GW to not just talk the talk in going green, but to prove its commitment to reducing its carbon footprint and being a sustainable campus.

Gavin Derleth, a freshman majoring in political science, is a Hatchet opinions writer. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

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