News | METRANS Research Spotlight: Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Student Commuting

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by Detflof von Winterfeldt


Principal Investigator: Detlof von Winterfeldt with Aleyeh Roknaldi, Julie Hopper, Richard S. John, Laurel Kruke and Alice Qiao


A new PSR-funded research report has improved the estimates of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from student commuting at the University of Southern California (USC). PSR researcher Detlof von Winterfeldt and his team determined student commuting contributes 17,969 metric tons of carbon emissions, or about 8.6% of all emissions from USC. This work develops a better understanding of the determinants of students’ transportation choices, and to explore students’ intentions and willingness to change their transportation behavior to reduce carbon emissions. The proposed research built on a unique opportunity to work with USC’s Office of Sustainability to conduct a sustainability survey that includes questions about student commuting.


The research team conducted a survey of about 3,000 USC students in 2022 and analyzed the data in coordination with the USC Office of Sustainability. The most interesting findings were that few undergraduate students commute by car (7.2%), while graduate students commute by car more often (32.4%). To encourage graduate students to use alternative transportation, the students suggested that USC invest in safety, affordable graduate housing, convenient routes and times for USC transportation, and incentives for environmentally friendly vehicles. The research also reviewed existing methods to reduce GHG emissions from student commuting at other universities. Many universities use incentive systems to encourage students to use environmentally friendly commuting, with free public transportation passes and discounted public transportation passes leading the way. Other programs included monetary incentives (offering cash rewards, reduced costs for transportation, or reimbursement of purchases), improved infrastructure (increasing EV charging stations, walkability / bike-ability), and adjusted parking permits (making it more effortful and expensive to park on-campus).


Prior to this project, there was a lack of student commuting data at USC and, consequently, there were only very rough estimates of GHG emissions from student commuting. The research substantially improved the estimates of USC student commuting behavior and associated GHG emissions, and can be applied to many other universities and large organizations.


Click here to read the full research brief.