Students living in or around campus have so many options to get to class. You can grab a B-cycle, hop on an electric scooter, or enjoy the spring weather by taking a walk. Noticeably absent from this mobility toolbox, however, is a convenient and reliable UT shuttle ride.
Ridership on the West Campus and Forty Acres buses — which, in case you’ve forgotten, do laps around campus and West Campus several times per hour — has dropped like a rock over the past few year.
The UT shuttles must be saved— and they can be. The shuttles provide an important service that no other transportation method can provide, and their decline was the direct result of some detrimental decisions made by the University.
Some of these decisions were unavoidable. Before the (never-ending) renovation of Speedway Mall, UT shuttles stopped directly in front of Jester and the PCL, two of the most popular destinations for students. In fact, these were some of the busiest bus stops in the entire city. But today, it is no longer safe for buses to cross the Mall given the foot traffic — so buses must detour a block away.
Other decisions were within the University’s power. Capital Metro’s operating costs have risen, but the University’s payments for shuttle service have not. Therefore, Cap Metro was forced to reduce service, and as a result, wait times for the shuttles have increased. Today, the West Campus bus arrives every nine minutes throughout the day and every 34 minutes at night. Ten years ago, it ran every 5 minutes during the day and every 25 minutes at night.
Now that the shuttles no longer go where students want to go, when students want to go, Longhorns have found other ways to get around.
Students have taken over 50,000 B-cycle trips since the February launch of the UT pilot, a number that B-cycle had been expecting months down the line — not now. And last week, students gained another option: electric scooter-sharing, courtesy of startups like Bird. Students have already taken a liking to the new scooters, perhaps valuing their ease of use.
While these alternatives are welcome, they are no substitute for the big blue buses. The University cannot allow the quality of the UT shuttle system to keep sliding.
The shuttles move people who are not physically able to get around on bicycles and scooters. They are also always available to ride, unlike bike and scooter-sharing schemes, which frequently run out of bikes or scooters to check out — usually exactly when you’re late to class. Buses are not sexy, but they get the job done. All they need from us is a little bit of love.
The University should increase funding for shuttles to restore previous levels of service, because if you’re using the 40 Acres bus to get to your next class, every extra minute spent waiting is a big deal. And to speed up the West Campus and 40 Acres buses, the University should also consider waiving the requirement to swipe or pay at the farebox. This would allow students to board through both doors of the bus without fumbling with their ID cards.
Expanding and improving campus shuttle service is not only possible, but necessary. Our university is as large as a small city. And like real cities, it cannot function without efficient, convenient and accessible public transportation.
Young is a computer science senior from Bakersfield, California. He is a senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @ryanayng.