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Cars? Who needs 'em?

More students at Southern Oregon University are going without cars, saying they're too expensive, with high insurance costs, parking headaches and, of course, a big carbon impact.

What they're doing is simplifying life with bikes, buses, walking, longboarding and (using social media) carpooling for Medford trips or even the one mile to downtown Ashland during nasty weather.

As a result, in a new report by the Oregon Student Public Interest Research Group, SOU is being called a "trailblazer" as it creates an online RideShare, subsidized bus passes, more covered bike racks and other means to make it easier for students to live in a low-vehicle world.

"Nope, I don't have any car. Can't afford the insurance, being a 21-year-old male," says Shannon Filby, an environmental science junior. "The upside is I feel a lot healthier. I don't have to worry about breakdowns. I spend hardly anything on maintenance. And Ashland is very easy for bikes. I can easily go get groceries and put them in my panniers.

"I try not to go (to Medford)," adds Filby. "But when I do, I take the bus."

To help scale down those vehicle trips around town, he says, SOU's Ecology & Sustainability Resource Center is creating a "bike library," where students can check out a bike for a few hours.

The university has lots of commuters from Medford, Klamath Falls and Grants Pass, and they soon will have the opportunity to ride in cars packed with other students, says Sai Weiss, the school's sustainability outreach coordinator, who is setting up the first RideShare app.

It will bring together not just students, but faculty and staff, he notes.

"Our millennials (people born after 1990) are driving less," says Weiss. "It's a burden to own a car. The traffic is hard. We're reducing congestion and lowering greenhouse gases, using safe and reliable transportation."

SOU student fees help pay for the affordable $15 per term bus pass, which gets them anywhere in the valley and does it in about the same time as driving, says Danielle Mancuso, assistant director of student life for involvement.

The RideShare program started a year ago, with 130 users last spring, 220 in the fall and 200 this winter, says Mancuso, who has timed the ride.

"It's stress reducing. You don't sit in traffic. You can read and reflect, talk to a friend," she notes, adding that downsides include no buses after 9:30 p.m.

Every fall, the Commuter Resource Center and Rogue Valley Transportation District put on a Gus the Bus program, educating students about all the nonvehicular options, says Mancuso.

Car-free Muriel Sadleir Hart, a music sophomore, says, "I don't have the money for a car. It's bike-friendly in Ashland, and I carpool with friends. We have covered bike ramps around campus, but we need more. Downtown especially needs more, and covered ones."

Music students like to come to campus to play together on Sunday, but complains Sadleir Hart, buses don't run on Sundays.

Media senior Shannon Houston of Klamath Falls drives her dad's van but walks to SOU classes. She's popular with other students, as she can cram many of them in her van — and her parents help with gas and insurance.

The OSPIRG report, "A New Course: How Innovative University Programs Are Reducing Driving on Campus and Creating New Models for Transportation Policy," documents the decline in driving among many young Americans, how it is enabled by social media and how governments are responding to the move away from fossil fuels.

"Across America, universities are showing that efforts to meet increased demand for transportation options deliver powerful benefits for their community and surrounding areas," said Krisse Steinmann of OSPIRG Students at SOU.

"These efforts are saving money for universities and improving the quality of life on campus. ... Public officials who want to stay ahead of the curve should be taking notes."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Shannon Filby rides his bike across the Southern Oregon University campus Thursday. Filby prefers to commute on his bike to save money and says he feels healthier. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch