‘The speed pedelec is a vehicle’: sustainable mobility at the university

Ruut van Rossen races past at 38km/hour. He stops. Gets off. We say hello. No, it's not a moped. “Yes, it’s a speed pedelec, the e-bike’s big brother. Pretty cool, don’t you think?”

Van Rossen exchanged his bicycle for a speed pedelec about seven years ago. Since then he has been riding his speed pedelec throughout the province of Utrecht. "Some days, I have to visit a lot of different places for work.” The pedelec was the perfect solution and helped to make him punctual too. "I've been on time ever since.”

We are in Utrecht Science Park. Van Rossen knows the area like the back of his hand: from the fields, woods and ditches to the roads, car parks and buildings, "it’s pretty much all owned by the university.” Van Rossen has been doing his current job for some 20 years now. "I am Head of Campus Management, the one & only at Real Estate & Campus.”

Making East Utrecht accessible...

...is what takes up most of van Rossen's time. The accessibility of Utrecht Science Park (USP) has been a source of concern for years. The long-term vision of Utrecht University (UU), Utrecht University of Applied Sciences and the University Medical Centre is clear: an easily accessible USP with as few cars as possible. But how do we get there? Van Rossen deals with this on a weekly, if not daily basis. “It's a significant part of my work. It's about roads, about parking, about moving to and from the UU zone.The recent opening of tram line 22 brought us a little closer to our goal,” this is one of the highlights that made 2019 an important year for sustainable mobility at Utrecht University.

Source: Trambedrijf Provincie Utrecht

Tram 22

After years of delay and waiting, the line was officially opened on December 16th 2019 when the very first passengers were finally able to board. This new tram line has led its slower counterpart bus 12 - which would easily take 20 minutes to reach Utrecht Science Park - to be discontinued. By contrast, Tram 22 only takes 12 minutes from Utrecht Central Station to Heidelberglaan and carries around 30,000 commuters every day with capacity for up to 45,000. Van Rossen is very enthusiastic about the tram and also invested energy in making the line a reality. “The tram runs on green electricity and is an enormous improvement in terms of emissions.” We don’t yet know whether more car users will opt for the tram instead of the car. Its effects on the commute of the UU community will be measured in 2020.

Mobility as a sub-economy

Much more happened in terms of sustainable mobility in 2019 in the wake of the tram. The successful formula of the mobile bicycle mechanic was continued and extended to Rijnsweerd,” says van Rossen. Employees of affiliated partners can have their bikes repaired at the mobile bicycle workshop and only pay for the cost of materials. In addition, the university made shared bikes and shared cars available to employees in 2019. The bikes are from the shared bicycle platform Donkey Republic and can be recognized by their bright orange frame. The cars are from We Drive Solar and run – naturally – on solar power. The car-sharing project started as a pilot but has been extended by at least one year thanks to its success.

How do people at the university commute?

“Students are very sustainable commuters,” says van Rossen, as only 2% of them use a car. When compared to other institutions, UU employees are also not doing badly at all, with more than 50% of them coming to work by bike.

There is still room for improvement though. More than 70% of employees live within a 15-20 km radius; these are distances that can be travelled by public transport or by bicycle. That means that there are still employees who could exchange their cars for public transport, a bike or a speed pedelec. 

The future: mobility hubs

What are future scenarios for an accessible Utrecht Science Park? Van Rossen's answer:  "Mobility hubs". There should be a clear road from a distant village (i.e. with no traffic jams) to the hub, where you park your car and continue in comfort by public transport. The concept already exists and, according to van Rossen, its implementation is inevitable. Van Rossen is also putting a lot of energy into lobbying for enlarging the station at Utrecht Lunetten and doubling the track, "if Lunetten had a double track, more intercity trains could stop there". That type of connection would be a godsend for many commuters, as Lunetten is very close to Utrecht Science Park. “All parties involved are now on the same page when talking about this potential project. That might not sound like much, but it’s how we started when we wanted the tram line.”

Read more about sustainable mobility in the focus chapter mobility.