CU student transportation
39 percent: take a bus
21 percent: bike
18 percent: walk
14 percent: drive alone
3 percent: carpool
Source: Parking and Transportation Services

Rather than walking or biking to her first class of the fall semester like most University of Colorado students, senior Chelsea Hansen spent some quality time with BJ, Howie and Jamie of the Alice 105.9 morning radio show while she sat in rush-hour traffic on U.S. 36.

Hansen spends about three hours a day, five days a week commuting to and from Boulder in her "purple golf ball," the nickname her family has given her Honda Accord, which is covered with hail damage.

Only 14 percent of CU-Boulder students -- about 3,953 students -- drive alone to campus, according to a report from Parking and Transportation Services. The majority of students, 78 percent, take a bus, walk or ride a bike to campus, the report said. 

Hansen commutes to Boulder from her parents house in Arvada, where she lives rent-free while completing her Bachelor's degrees in psychology and sociology.

The senior said she lived in the dorms her freshman year and off-campus in Boulder as a sophomore. But tuition and rent payments were putting too much financial strain on her parents' generosity. Hansen moved home at the beginning of her junior year and discovered that there's a price to living rent-free.

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"I'm feeling disconnected," Hansen said. "When you live there, you're on campus all the time and have the option to hang out and be a student. But since I've been at home, I definitely feel like I'm a grandma, because I'm not around everything and I don't feel like a real college student."

Since moving home, Hansen said she's had to make a stronger effort to feel included on campus.

She often stays after classes to join classmates in Norlin Library for a group study session or volunteers with campus departments to maintain some non-academic ties to the university. 

CU junior Stephanie Ellis also lives with her parents in Arvada, but her commute is a bit longer than Hansen's due to multiple stops along her bus route to Boulder. "I have to be at the bus stop by 6:30 (a.m.), and it takes about two hours to get to campus from there," she said.

Ellis moved home about two years ago to save some cash since she's paying for her tuition and housing expenses herself. Adding the cost of a vehicle, insurance and gas just isn't an option for the philosophy major, who said she uses the student bus pass, which is paid for through student fees, to get back and forth for free.

"Commuting so much does make me feel disconnected sometimes," Ellis said. "But I just can't afford to live in Boulder, and I've learned to accept that."

Long commute aside, Hansen said coming home at 10 p.m. to a house full of sleeping parents and siblings is not conducive to the typical student lifestyle she craves. After spending eight hours in classes and another three in the car -- maybe four depending on traffic -- trying to study in the dark and silent house is nearly impossible, she said.

"I know it sounds lame but I get excited to go to study groups like that," Hansen said. "As un-fun as studying is, it's nice to connect with people that way."

Hansen said because there are so few commuters at CU, it's difficult to meet other students in similar situations.

CU's Environmental Center and Parking and Transportation services recently launched a website they hope will connect commuters like Hansen and encourage students to carpool.

Cucommute.com was launched just before school started this fall. The site maps the approximate location of commuters who use the site to allow other commuters to connect with people in their area, and hopefully form carpool groups, said Brandon Smith, sustainable transportation program manager for the Environmental Center.

Despite the tight financial situation, both students said they were hoping to move out on their own soon, though Hansen said she will likely wait until she graduates. 

"My parents are paying for my tuition, and they just really don't want me taking on the financial burden of rent and all that right now, so I'm trying to respect them," Hansen said.

Ellis is hoping to have enough money saved up by December to move to Broomfield before the spring semester starts, which would cut her commute time to about 20 minutes, she said.