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Osama Al-Eryani

Gas prices could kill your freedom

But transit options not limited to U-PASS and your dad's car

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Paying at the pump is going to become more difficult for students in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which has taken out approximately 20 per cent of the United States' refining capacity.

The record high gas prices are encouraging students to park their SUVs and examine more affordable ways to make the campus commute.

"With fallout from events in the US the near term is not good," said Managing Director of the University of Calgary's Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy Dr. Robert Mansell. "Longer term it very much depends on the price of crude. We don't expect crude oil prices to fall back to anything near $20 per barrel but neither do we see them exacerbate."

Mansell suggested the sustained high gas prices will encourage people to seek alternate methods of transit and take advantage of the U-PASS.

"I expect its going to be good for our transit systems because more people will give a second thought to driving their cars and will take buses or the C-Train instead," said Mansell.

For students who need a break from gas prices without the sardine-like atmosphere of the morning train, there are alternate options to get to campus in style while saving money and the environment.

Carpool and rideshare

Carpooling is a good option for people who still like the comfort of their vehicle, but want to cut down on driving costs. Two websites, carpool.ca and sharearide.ca, connect student and staff drivers and riders at Canadian universities.

"We already have 2,200 users in Calgary and surrounding area," said Anne Marie Thornton, Director of carpool.ca, noting 270 of those Calgary area users are staff and students from the U of C.

The site allows drivers and riders to post requests or browse for carpooling partners in their area and screen for preferences like gender and smoking. Thornton said site usage has gone up about 20 per cent in response to gasoline prices.

Another option for students who want to share a one-time ride on a specific day, often between cities, is sharearide.ca.

The site was launched by Marlene Thomson after her daughters moved from their home town of Muncton, New Brunswick to neighboring cities. Sharearide is free and connects people looking for rides, or for a passenger to help with gas money.

"Having three daughters at university, we were spending all of our weekends and a great deal of money transporting these girls around," said Thomson. "It was never designed as an income. We needed the help ourselves and that's why we got it up and running."

Thompson said students have used sharearide to cut moving costs and find other students in the area to share a U-Haul on moving day. The site is currently working on a section to connect carpoolers.

Cycling

Riding a bike to campus is a zero fuel dollars option with added health and environmental benefits. The only costs for the cycling commuter are a bike, a lock, a helmet and days of perpetual helmet hair.

According to Ron Uhlenberg, owner of Ridley's Cycle, a brand new bike at his shop starts around $400 for a basic mountain bike or a stylish cruiser, which are suitable for shorter distance commutes.

"For a longer distance commute a hybrid would be around the $700 range," explained Uhlenberg.

A hybrid blends aspects of mountain and road bikes to create a cycle that is fast, light and comfortable. Hybrids are ideal for commuters and suitable for road, pathway and light off-road use.

For students who can't afford a brand new bike, used bikes are a cheaper option, but Uhlenberg cautioned buyers to be weary of a bike in poor condition, which can result in expensive repairs.

"For the used bike market look in the Bargain Finder," suggested Uhlenberg. "Just do an overall inspection of the bike. Make sure the chain is in good shape and check how stretched the chain or drive train is."

The benefits of a cycling commute go beyond just saving gas dollars, according to Uhlenberg.

"In a busy life, this is a place where people can save some money, do something for the environment and get the health benefit," he said.

Scooters

In addition to looking good, scooters can be ridden until the snow falls, require no special licensing and use minimal fuel, which makes them an increasingly popular transportation option.

"We've seen an increase in interest and sales are steady throughout the summer because of gas prices --that's the first thing that comes to everyone's mind," said Gina Bussoli, Sales Associate at Vespa Calgary Inglewood.

The scooters sold at Vespa range in price from $3,000 to $9,000. Though the price tag is substantially higher than a bike, filling the tank with gas and paying insurance fits within the student budget.

"A nine liter tank will cost probably $6 to fill and you'll get 250 km with that," explained Bussoli. "To insure is between $100 and $400 per year depending on your coverage."

According to Bussoli most customers purchase 50cc engine models which have a maximum speed of about 70 km per hour and can be legally driven on any road with a posted limit less than 80 km per hour. The 50cc models require only a learners license to drive.

Another added scooter bonus is free parking.

"You can get away with parking on the bike racks most of the time and I know at the U of C there's free parking for scooters," said Bussoli.

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