When Natasha Mikhail and her mother came from California last spring to visit the University of Colorado campus, they didn't rent a car.
With ease, they took an airport shuttle to Boulder, and then buses around the college town. And, they went without a car when they returned for freshman orientation over the summer.
So, Mikhail left her car at home when she came to college -- an emerging trend that is delighting campus planners and environmental czars at CU-Boulder.
Only 852 freshmen bought parking permits this school year, said Frank Bruno, vice chancellor for administration at CU. That's more than a 20 percent drop since last school year -- and a dramatic downshift since 2005 when more than 1,400 students bought parking permits, according to Bruno.
Mikhail -- who is among the 5,215 in this year's freshman class -- said there's no need for her to have a car.
"I'd rather walk or take the bus anyways," she said.
She lives in the Williams Village complex and uses the Buff Bus to shuttle her to the main campus.
The campus last year flirted with the idea of imposing a ban on freshmen bringing cars to campus -- but school leaders decided that would be too heavy-handed. Campus leaders said a ban might irk people who would otherwise support the school's goal of reducing the number of cars and congestion on campus.
"We are doing a reasonably effective job without creating mandates," said Moe Tabrizi, who is CU's newly named director of campus sustainability. "Those mandates typically backfire."
Tabrizi is charged with the task of meeting the "Greening the Government" Governor's Energy orders, which includes reducing petroleum use on the campus by 25 percent by 2012.
Now, when students take tours of the campus, they are encouraged by their guides to not bring cars during their freshman year. When CU leaders recruit out-of-state students at college fairs and presentations, they discuss the many alternative options to driving and the student-funded Environmental Center also helps spread the word.
For example, CU student fees pay for bus passes, mobile mechanics will help service students' bikes, students can rent bikes for free and "Zimride" is a carpool matching service.
For many parts of campus, it's easier and quicker to use alternative routes of transportation, Tabrizi said.
Brittany Ware, a CU freshman, has a permit to park her car near Williams Village, though she said she could easily live without her car.
It's been convenient when she goes to church in downtown Boulder, runs errands or drives home to Colorado Springs.
"It helps my parents because then they don't have to drive up here to pick me up," she said.
This year, student parking permit rates range between about $95 and $350 for the academic year. An analysis in CU's Conceptual Plan for Carbon Neutrality found that CU would lose about $1.2 million a year from the parking permits it sells to students.
The plan was filed last year with the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment, and shows how the campus plans to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
Bruno, the vice chancellor, said that students -- as they advance in their academic years -- may need a car for internships or jobs.
About 75 percent of students already use alternative modes of transportation to get to the campus, such as walking, biking and taking the bus, according to Dave Newport, director of the Environmental Center.
Amanda Rodriguez, a freshman from Pasadena, Calif., left her car at home. Sure, she said, it would be easier to tote groceries to her dorm, which has a kitchenette.
But she can't think of a reason why freshmen would need cars, though admits it makes some popular.
"If you're the kid with a car, you instantly have friends," she said.
Contact Camera Staff Writer Brittany Anas at 303-473-1132 or firstname.lastname@example.org.