York University awarded the first Best University for Commuters in Canada

(Riddhi Jani)

On Sept. 13, York University was named the first-ever Best University for Commuters in Canada. The title was designated to York by the BWC (Best Workplace for Commuters), a North American organization working to help their partners develop better commuting solutions.

York is the first Canadian institution to join BWC, thus becoming the first university in Canada to earn this title. By becoming a member of BWC, York University joins an impressive list of US institutions, such as Harvard University, Stanford University, and Princeton University.

Indeed, achieving the BWC’s Standard of Excellence is a notable success for an institution as vast and multipart as York. To earn membership in the BWC, a university must offer one primary benefit, for instance, employer-paid tax-free transit and three supporting benefits, such as shuttles to and from transit stations. In addition, a BWC-acclaimed institution must offer access to a free or low-cost ride home in case of an emergency, which at York is a staff-only service.

Donna Hubert, Director of Parking and Transportation Services at York explains that York qualified for the BWC by offering the Glendon-Keele campus shuttle as the primary benefit.  The shuttle operates from 7:10 a.m. to 10:45 p.m. and takes approximately 45 minutes to travel between campuses. York also offers multiple supporting benefits, such as bike share, on-site transit connections, and electric vehicle charging stations.

When discussing transit options, York underlines its commitment to sustainability. According to Hubert, the BWC was brought to York by its long-standing partner, PointA, a non-profit organization focusing on sustainable commuting solutions. Some of York’s sustainability efforts include the installation of more than 30 electric vehicle charging stations across the Keele and Glendon campuses. Frequent car-poolers enjoy a reduced parking rate through the Diamond Pool Parking program, facilitated by PointA.

However, a question of accessibility arises. Kyle Yu, a second-year film production student who uses an electric bicycle to travel to and from York, expresses that a lack of facilities outside of campus often makes it difficult to use this option. “When I get to Steeles and Keele Street, the bike lane disappears, and I’m forced to use the sidewalk or the road,” says Yu. 

In the winter months, ice and snow will only add to the problem, making it difficult for students to use York’s bicycle facilities. 

However, there is an alternative. Mike Layton, York’s Chief Sustainability Officer suggests that to further York’s development of sustainable transport, we need to “make public transit the preferred option for students and staff by making sure it’s more affordable and convenient.” 

Stiles Theo, a second-year screenwriting student, uses the TTC and shares some of the key challenges associated with the commute. “It’s a long trip. York is a 20 – 30-minute drive from my house, but by TTC, it can take up to an hour and a half.”

In addition, there are safety concerns associated with the TTC. “I’ve had to change the route I take because there was a shooting at my usual subway station when I was there. […] I’m fortunate that there are many ways to get to York by taking only the buses, which have considerably fewer situations happening on them,” says Theo.

When discussing York’s future goals for sustainable transit, Layton listed a few initiatives that might make commuting to York more accessible. “Researchers at Lassonde are working on business cases for innovation in micro-mobility and developing cycling safety apps,” he says. In addition, the Metrolinx announcement regarding the ending of the double fares for GO-TTC rides will save students’ finances.

Most importantly, Layton announced that York will be forming a sustainability sub-committee focusing on transportation. “The committee will be made up of faculty, operations staff and students who will develop strategies and proposals for York to continue to promote sustainable transportation on our campuses, in our communities and around the world,” Layton says.

While the designation of York University as the Best University for Commuters may not entirely reflect the experience of students, it commends the many efforts on behalf of York to increase sustainable options for transit. The variety of methods and routes helps York remain accessible for commuters. Increasing student awareness of such options will make a difference to York’s sustainability efforts in the coming years.

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By Sam Martin


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