The Commuter’s Guide to Getting to Campus


After living in Carrboro and less than 10 minutes away from campus for the last three years, I thought that moving to Durham and commuting to campus would be no big deal. I knew I would miss the convenience of being able to run across the street from my apartment to catch the bus, but I couldn’t wait to have more space and a great deal on rent. I told myself, ‘I’ll just make the 20-minute drive to campus and find a lot to park my car’; however, now having commuted back and forth between Chapel Hill and Durham for the last month, I realize I have grossly underestimated how big of a transition this was going to be.

For other students who are or will be commuting to campus this fall, here are a few warnings and tips for getting to campus safely and on time:

  1. Prepare Early! If anyone is like me (not quite a morning person), every minute from the time I wake up to the time I walk out of the door is jam-packed. Between hitting the snooze button and figuring out what to wear to accommodate North Carolina’s fickle weather and Tate Turner Kuralt’s at times frigid classrooms, I frequently find myself running late. To avoid a mad dash out of the door (and a potential speeding ticket), I’ve found it helpful to pack my lunch, picking out my clothes, and packing my book bag the night before. Not only do I ensure that I have all I need for classes, I also have saved some critical time for my commute.
  1. Make time for traffic! Before making the drive from Durham to Chapel Hill in the morning, I had no idea what kind of traffic congestion I would face. No matter if I took side roads or the highway, what I thought was a 20-minute drive was actually a 30-minute commute, filled with stop-and-go traffic and consecutive red lights. Let’s just say it didn’t take long for me to realize that if I was going to commute to campus, I needed to give myself ample time for potential traffic congestion. Just like me, faculty and staff, other UNC students, and community members may also want to get to Chapel Hill by 9am.
  1. Carpool Anyone? After talking with others about my move to Durham, I found out that many of my classmates and co-workers lived in nearby neighborhoods. Although I have yet to try it out, I am excited about the possibility of sharing the responsibility of driving to campus and carpooling. This will not only be an opportunity spend time with a fellow doctoral student,  but also a chance to get to know my neighbors and save some money on gas.
  1. Commuter Alternative Program—say what? The Commuter Alternative Program, or CAP for short, is a public transportation option available to UNC students and staff who live off-campus. With a focus on “promoting sustainable travel options” and advocating for healthier alternatives for individuals, communities, and the environment, CAP offers a variety of different rewards to Tarheels who make the choice to bike, bus, rideshare, or walk to campus, including:
    1. Free rides on the Chapel Hill Transit bus system with bus stops all around Chapel Hill.
    2. Park & Ride lots located in Chapel Hill and Carrboro that are served by Chapel Hill Transit and offer parking options cheaper than those on campus.
    3. The Triangle Transit GoPass, a free bus pass for commuters traveling to and from Durham, Raleigh, Hillsborough, and other areas of the Triangle with convenient stops around campus. I have taking advantage of the GoPass myself and consider it an absolute lifesaver. I simply park in the designated parking area near the Southpoint Mall movie theater, get on the bus, slide my GoPass card, and enjoy the ride. Instead of having to drive for 30 minutes in traffic only to arrive at the parking lot just as the bus is pulling off, I drive for less than ten minutes and arrive right in front of the School of Social Work. And did I say it was free?


There are other options available too! Just know that you don’t have to sacrifice your time, money, and patience to enjoy the advantages of living off campus.

For more information about commuter options available to UNC students, please visit the UNC Department of Public Safety’s website at



About Charity S. Watkins

After earning my MSW in May 2013 and completing the MSW/PhD Continuum Program, I am now a third-year PhD student. I am originally from Rochester, New York but I have lived in the Durham/Chapel Hill area since graduating from UNC with my bachelor's degree in sociology. My areas of interest include family dynamics, educational resilience, racial and socioeconomic disparities, and school-based interventions. Aside from studying, I enjoy exercising, listening to music, going to Chicago Line Dancing classes, and spending time with my husband and two dogs.
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