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Brodie Hamilton looks back on the success of Stanford's alternative transportation programs

In 2002, 72 percent of Stanford's faculty and staff drove alone to work, said Brodie Hamilton, the director of Parking and Transportation Services. By 2013, it had dropped to 47 percent – even as the population of faculty and staff has grown. As Hamilton prepares to retire, he looks back on the secrets of his success.

L.A. Cicero Brodie Hamilton

Brodie Hamilton, retiring director of Parking and Transportation Services, has created a model comprehensive transportation program.

Shortly after Brodie Hamilton arrived on the Farm as director of Parking & Transportation Services (P&TS), Stanford announced plans to limit the number of cars entering and exiting campus during peak commute hours. It quickly became Hamilton's most important mandate: no net new commute trips.

The plan to keep commute trips at or below the number recorded in 2001 was designed to keep the university in compliance with the General Use Permit (GUP) approved by Santa Clara County in December 2000. Hamilton had arrived at Stanford one month earlier from the University of California, Davis, where he had developed and directed its transportation program for more than a decade.

Hamilton is retiring from Stanford at the end of the month, after creating a comprehensive transportation program that is a national model. Stanford Report visited Hamilton in his office in Bonair Siding and talked about the programs he and his staff have created.

 

When you arrived on campus, what incentives were offered to commuters to entice them to leave their cars at home?

At that time, Stanford had a very basic transportation demand management program in place. We had the Emergency Ride Home Program. We had Clean Air Cash, but the cash awards were much lower then than they are now. We had a much smaller free Marguerite Shuttle Service, with 15 buses and a handful of routes around campus.

 

How does that compare with alternative transportation programs available now?

In fall 2002, we introduced the Caltrain Go Pass and VTA Eco Pass. The Commute Club, which now has more than 9,000 members, celebrated its 10th anniversary last year. We help people find rideshare partners, offer personalized commute planning services and a Commute Buddy Program that matches experienced commuters with "newbies" to help them become comfortable with taking the bus, the train or a bike to campus. We now have a fleet of more than 60 Marguerite shuttle buses traveling nearly two-dozen routes with 206 stop locations.

 

Linda A. CiceroMen with high wheel bicycles

Brodie Hamilton, left, joined Jack Castor of the Half Moon Bay Wheelmen and other highwheelers as the cyclists took part in races on Serra Mall for Community Day in 2003.

What was your approach to creating the alternative transportation program?

In putting the program together, we tried to offer solutions to what I call the "yes, but" responses. If someone says, "Yes, I'd use an alternative to driving alone, but if one of my kids gets sick I would be stuck at work without a way home," we could say, "We have an emergency ride home program." If someone says, "Yes, I'd take the train or the bus, but it's too expensive," we could say, "It's free." If someone says, "I need my car at work so I can run errands and get to doctor's appointments," we could say, "Zipcar and Enterprise Rent-A-Car are available on campus." We tried to create a program that had enough pieces to deal with most "yes, but" issues, so that people could give alternative transportation a try.

 

What was the concept behind the Commute Club?

In creating the Commute Club, we brought together a group of people who are doing what we want them to do – use alternative transportation to get to and from work – and who could not only reinforce each other's behavior but inspire other people to join them. As members, they have a sense of belonging and purpose. They are our ambassadors to the Stanford community as it relates to commute alternatives.

 

What has contributed to the success of the alternative transportation program?

The outreach and promotions created by the P&TS staff have been a huge part of our success. Our marketing and outreach programs come up with the concepts for posters, banners and promotions, like the "Tell Us Your Story " promotion. We're always getting requests for our promotional posters, so we make enough to distribute to offices and departments as well as meeting these additional requests. The promotions are important; there is employee and student turnover at the university and everyone is experiencing information overload, so we have to continually come up with new ways to get our message out in front of people.

One of my favorite stories is about our coral reef poster, which featured a photograph by Rob Dunbar, a Stanford professor in environmental Earth system science, with the slogan, "One more reason to drive less." Someone put one of those posters inside an MRI machine in Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, so that when kids looked up they saw an underwater scene of white coral, and hundreds of purple and orange fish.

 

What accomplishments are you most proud of?

Putting together the staff that, over time, has created a transportation management program so comprehensive that other universities look to us as the gold standard. We have an outstanding staff – 25 people who are motivated, dedicated and talented, and know their stuff. I feel like I'm leaving the department in good shape for the next director. Last year, University Human Resources cited elements of our transportation program in their handbook to new recruits describing the benefits of working at Stanford.

 

Have you shared lessons learned at Stanford with other universities?

When I speak at conferences I say, "If you want your transportation program to succeed, you need support from the top and you need resources to be able to pull it off." We have received phenomenal support from the Stanford administration, especially Provost John Etchemendy. That's been one of the best parts of the job. They've let us develop an extensive program and use many approaches to reach out to the community and provided prizes for our promotions and drawings.

I also tell conference audiences that they will need a comprehensive program. For example, we have the Caltrain Go Pass, which is a wonderful program, but if we didn't have the resources to expand the Marguerite Shuttle Bus routes to get people back and forth from the train station to all the places they need to go on campus and nearby – like the Research Park, where a lot of hospital and university departments are now located – the free train pass wouldn't be as attractive. As some programs have moved off campus, and as Stanford has added new buildings to the main campus, people have needed to get to places they didn't need to travel to in 2001. You've got to have all the pieces to create the synergy needed to make the program successful.

And of course you need to keep track of the metrics, so you know what's working and when to make changes. In 2002, 72 percent of Stanford's faculty and staff drove alone to work. By 2013, that percentage had dropped to 47 percent – even as the population of faculty and staff has grown.

 

What role have bicycles played in Stanford's approach to alternative transportation?

Cycling has been an integral part of the Stanford community since its beginning, and it has played an important role in P&TS efforts. Promoting cycling has contributed to a significant increase in bike use as a commute mode since 2002; cyclists now make up over 20 percent of all university commutes. The P&TS Bicycle Program, in collaboration with many other campus departments, has helped established an extensive bicycle program that focuses on facilities development and safety awareness. All these efforts led to Stanford being recognized by the League of American Bicyclists as the first Platinum Level Bicycle Friendly University.

 

What will you miss the most about working on the Farm?

There are so many things I'll miss. I'm going to miss my staff. They have made so many contributions, both seen and unseen by the campus community. I'm going to miss the place. When you walk around Stanford, you notice that the grounds are so well maintained and there is a consistency in architecture that makes you feel like you've arrived somewhere. Stanford has a sense of place that makes it special. It's an environment that extends to the way people treat each other. Even though people may complain about parking or transportation issues, they typically express their opinions in a civil way, and most are understanding enough to acknowledge that we are always doing what we can do to improve the situation.

The other things I'm going to miss are all the things that are coming – such as the conversion of our entire Marguerite Shuttle Bus fleet to electric vehicles. That is going to be a wonderful change. Also, Stanford will be developing a long-range transportation plan and the results of that will be very intriguing. But it's a good time to pass the baton. It's a perfect time for somebody else to come in and look toward the future.

 

You've become a familiar figure at the annual Founders' Celebration, riding your highwheel bicycle down Palm Drive and in front of the Cantor Arts Center – a visual reminder of what life was like in 1885 when Jane and Leland Stanford founded the university. Will you continue that tradition?

Yes – as long as I'm invited!