Project to Boost City Bus Ridership Wins RISE Climate Mitigation Challenge

A Lowell city bus crossing the Howe Bridge on campus Image by Ed Brennen
The "RouteShout 3.0" team won the RISE Climate Mitigation Challenge for their proposal to boost ridership on Lowell city buses.

By Ed Brennen

The ideas ran the gamut: from the bold vision of installing wind turbines under the Howe Bridge to the community-oriented plan of closing a street in downtown Lowell once a week for a farmer’s market.

But in the end, it was a strategy to boost ridership on Lowell’s city buses that won the second annual Climate Mitigation Challenge, sponsored by the Rist Institute for Sustainability and Energy (RISE).

Open to students of all majors, the challenge prompts teams to think of ways to reduce the university community’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 10,000 pounds over a 10-week span.

This year’s winning team of senior English major Brigid Archibald, senior computer science major Seth Kaplan and civil engineering graduate student Virginia Trudel proposed “RouteShout 3.0,” a plan to improve the mobile app and social media presence of the Lowell Regional Transit Authority (LRTA).

“If the LRTA’s online presence is more accessible, approachable and effective, it would entice more ridership,” says Archibald, who is minoring in climate change and sustainability. 

According to the team’s calculations, if an additional 46 people traveled by LRTA buses instead of cars for 10 weeks, that would meet the goal of reducing CO2 emissions by 10,000 pounds.
A computer model image of proposed wind turbines under the Howe Bridge
The "Wind Bridge River Hawks" team proposed installing electricity-generating wind turbines under the Howe Bridge as part of the Climate Mitigation Challenge, sponsored by the Rist Institute for Sustainability and Energy.

Four teams advanced to the finals and were invited to present their ideas on Zoom, where Provost Joseph Hartman announced the winner. Projects were judged by RISE co-directors Juliette Rooney-Varga, Christopher Niezrecki and Ruairi O’Mahony.

“It’s one thing to take a class and do a project, but to participate in something like this just shows how important this is to you — and to us as a university,” Hartman told the finalists. “I love when smart folks with a lot of energy take on a really important problem.”

Rooney-Varga, a professor of environmental science and director of the university’s Climate Change Initiative, said the challenge is “a fantastic example of how hands-on innovation happens at UMass Lowell,” which has committed to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The “Raise the Roof” team of Kayla Hogan, Erica Tran and Robert Ferullo earned the second-place prize of $200 for their idea to install “cool roof” materials on campus buildings that would reduce room temperatures in the summer months, thereby reducing energy needs.

“Land Use Lads,” a team of Kseniya Vialichka, Fiona Benzi and Seong Loh, tied for third and received $150. They proposed closing a stretch of Merrimack Street in downtown Lowell once a week for a year for a farmer’s market — a move that would promote both foot traffic and locally sourced food.
A screenshot of students and faculty during the RISE award presentation
Climate Mitigation Challenge participants get a round of applause on Zoom after presenting their projects.

“What I love about this project is you identified the need to pull in different agencies from across the city, and that really underpins a lot of the work that we do,” said O’Mahony, director of the Office of Sustainability.

The “Wind Bridge River Hawks” team of Weston Abusamra, Nicko Perez and Matt Reppenhagen also received $150 for their third-place project, which proposed installing wind turbines beneath the Howe Bridge (which spans the Merrimack River between North and East campuses) to generate electricity for the university.  

The winning RouteShout 3.0 team, which received a $500 first prize, noted that LRTA ridership has been on the decline since a peak of 1.53 million rides in 2015. They conducted a survey of Lowell residents about the LRTA’s existing RouteShout 2.0 mobile app and found that 90% of respondents would be more likely to use the tool if it provided better route updates.

The team recommended that the LRTA leverage its relationship with the university by having students help develop an improved app, similar to the university’s Roadster Routes app. They also proposed having students assist with the LRTA’s social media and marketing efforts through the English Department’s internship program.

All the teams were encouraged to continue pursuing their projects through programs like the Sustainability, Engagement and Enrichment Development (S.E.E.D.) Fund and the Rist DifferenceMaker Institute.

“We look forward to implementing some of these solutions soon in person,” Hartman said.