A field test of a project that provides alternative modes of transportation for employees who leave their cars at home launched at Contra Costa Centre Transit Village and other businesses around the Pleasant Hill BART station this month.
Commuters who take public transit or share rides to work can access bicycles, electric bicycles and Segway® Human Transporters (HTs) for use to and from the office. The units are also available during the day for off-site meetings and errands.
The ultimate goal of the project is to save precious fuel, reduce emissions and congestion, and lessen the demand for limited parking in the area.
Dubbed "EasyConnect," the project is coordinated by California Partners for Advanced Transit and Highways (PATH), a collaboration between the University of California, Berkeley’s Institute of Transportation Studies and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans).
“EasyConnect is designed not only to help people use transit to get to work, but it also alleviates the problem known as transit isolationism,” said Susan Shaheen, program leader for policy and behavioral research at PATH and the researcher who designed the project. “Some people find it difficult to take transit to work because if they do, they have no way of getting around during the day.”
The two-wheelers are stored at the Pleasant Hill BART station in electronic lockers and picked up by employees of nearby participating businesses to get to work, or kept at nearby offices for daily errands or lunch-time spins. During the day, the devices are kept at the businesses for shared use by multiple employees.
Approximately ten companies and more than 25 employees have already signed up to participate during the initial recruitment phase of the project. The PATH team is actively recruiting additional employers and employees to participate in the EasyConnect project throughout the summer. Businesses pay $150 per unit per month, which allows their employees to use the Segway HTs and bikes for free, after taking a short training course.
Segway, Inc. has loaned the program 10 of its unique self-balancing, electric devices called Segway HTs, and Giant Bicycle, Inc. has loaned 10 bicycles: five electric and five standard models.
Shaheen said the Pleasant Hill BART station was chosen as the base for the project because of its proximity to Contra Costa Centre, a well-planned transit-oriented, multi-use community. The Centre is also the future site of a "transit village," currently under construction, that is designed to facilitate occupants' use of public transit.
"Centre employees are thrilled with this new alternative available to them," said Lynette Busby, executive director of the Contra Costa Centre. "After just a short training session, they'll be able to roll their way to being a happier, healthier group of people."
"We need to look at using different methods of getting more people out of their single-occupancy cars, so that we use our limited resources more efficiently," said Contra Costa County Supervisor and Metropolitan Transportation Commissioner Mark DeSaulnier. “The innovative concepts being introduced at this transit village under construction will continue to be replicated, not only across the nation, but around the world,” he added. DeSaulnier represents Contra Costa Centre and the neighboring BART station as Supervisor for District IV.
"Caltrans strongly supports a range of options available for commuters that help ease congestion on our freeways, provide for improved air quality and contribute to increased quality time with loved ones," said Randell Iwasaki, Chief Deputy Director of Caltrans. "The payoff of our involvement in the EasyConnect project will be its integration with other successful research projects such as our smart parking initiative that was launched at the Rockridge BART station."
If it proves successful after a two-year test period, EasyConnect will be expanded to other areas of California, Shaheen said. The plan is to eventually combine the project at the Pleasant Hill BART station/Contra Costa Transit Village with other successful transportation technologies such as the smart parking reservation system, real-time freeway and transit information signage, carsharing and power supplied by a hydrogen fuel cell to support a small electric vehicle and Segway HTs.
Caltrans is supporting the EasyConnect program with $369,000 in grants. Another $131,000 in funding is provided by grants from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Bay Area Quality Management District, Contra Costa Centre Transit Village, Contra Costa County, 511 Contra Costa, Segway, Inc., and Giant Bicycles. Other project partners include BART and Millennium Partners.