Chelsea Smith

Photo Credit: Fabian Fernandez | Daily Texan Staff

The Capital Metro Board of Directors met Monday to discuss a number of issues, including the possible shutting down of two low-ridership shuttle routes that cater mainly to graduate students.  According to Capital Metro, the University is no longer giving them enough funds to keep these routes running. 

The Capital Metro board had a chance to keep the Wickersham Lane and Cameron Road shuttle routes, the routes in question, open, but after hearing testimony from a few key players in the debate, it approved their elimination unanimously, 7-0.  

The move didn’t come as all that big a surprise to Columbia Mishra, president of the Graduate Student Assembly. 

“It was a formality on Cap Metro’s part to approve [the proposal],” Mishra said. 

That proposal came about through discussions last year by the UT Shuttle Committee, which included 11 graduate students. According to Parking and Transportation Services Director Bobby Stone, the committee voted 10-1-4 in favor of the changes now to be enacted and against  fighting for additional funds to maintain the routes.

Still, the move will have a profound impact on graduate students. In an interview with the Daily Texan editorial board early this month, Mishra pointed out that many graduate students have to look for housing in the areas the routes in question service because of a combination of low salaries and high rents. 

Luckily, the pain won’t be felt all at once. While the Wickersham Lane shuttle, which serves several apartment complexes south of Riverside Drive, will be discontinued at the end of this semester, the Cameron Road shuttle will be phased out by the end of next semester. Instead of being given the ax in December, the northernmost shuttle will instead be limited to the apartments along Camino La Costa starting next semester before being canceled completely at the end of the school year.

At the hearing, Capital Metro’s Principal Planner Roberto Gonzalez reiterated the agency’s reasons for accepting the proposal, including low ridership counts and the possibility of rerouting city buses to fill the gaps left by the route cancellations. However, we remain concerned about the accuracy of the data on which so much of this decision was based. 

Sociology graduate student Chelsea Smith took the opportunity today to question whether simply counting the number of rides taken in a day was a fair measure of route popularity.

“To me that [measure of ridership] counts rides, so as UT students we’re all paying into this budget, so this number that we’re using is the number of rides that happen [throughout a] day,” Smith said. “If a student living in West Campus takes it to and from campus multiple times a day, that could be, say, six to eight rides, but as graduate students and other students living farther away, we’re only taking the shuttle in once a day ... We’re paying the same amount as everybody else, but we’re counting as less.”

In addition to Smith’s concerns, GSA communications director David Villarreal, who was not present at the hearing, has called into question the reliability of numbers obtained by the agency’s automatic counting technology.

“Supposedly, every time a student enters the bus from either the front or the rear, they pass through lasers that count them,” Villarreal said. “However, if you go to any UT shuttle, you will see that the reflectors are only on the front door and not the rear exit. This is important because many students enter and exit ... without ever being counted.”

We understand that Capital Metro offered students several chances to speak out against the proposal. We also understand that there were a number of graduate students on the committee that originally put forth this proposal. However, we have to side with Mishra, who told the board that “[students] need more time” and opportunity to participate in the process.

Granted, members of the public were allowed one last chance to weigh in today, but the actual vote was shoehorned into the end of the meeting in a package of measures that included unrelated items of business such as the approval of contracts to implement a customer WiFi system on city buses and to demolish and remove an existing HVAC chiller.

Students deserve better than that. At the very least, they deserve a “public forum on our campus,” as Mishra called for Monday. While some of the changes are slated to be implemented next semester, the damage done Monday is not irreversible. The responsibility now lies with students to look for a funding solution to keep students on the shuttles. 

Capital Metro board of directors voted Monday to change the Cameron Road and eliminate the Wickersham Lane UT shuttle services starting Spring 2014.

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

Students who ride UT shuttles to campus will need to find alternate methods to commute to class starting in the spring.

The Capital Metro board of directors voted unanimously at a meeting Monday to eliminate the Wickersham Lane shuttle route and decrease the coverage of the Cameron Road shuttle route beginning in spring 2014. 

The Cameron Road route will only serve students in the Camino La Costa area north of campus — where many graduate students live — until the end of the spring semester, when the route will be eliminated completely.

Pat Clubb, vice president for university operations, said the University tries to support routes that carry the largest number of students.

The University pays more than $6 million to CapMetro for bus and shuttle service, CapMetro spokeswoman Melissa Ayala said. The University’s funding to CapMetro remains flat even though CapMetro would have required the University to increase shuttle funding because of rising transportation costs to keep all current routes.

“As choices are made, if a route has a low ridership, then it becomes a candidate for elimination since those dollars can support a route with much greater ridership,” Clubb said.

Many graduate students who live far from campus ride the shuttle twice a day, while many students who live in West Campus ride the shuttle multiple times per day, so the graduate students are underrepresented, sociology graduate student Chelsea Smith said.

“We’re paying the same amount as everybody else, but we’re [counted] as less,” Smith said. 

Smith said CapMetro should count how many people ride the bus in addition to the number of rides the bus provides.

“We all pay these fees, and the numbers on ridership that CapMetro and [Parking and Transportation Services] are using refer to rides as opposed to riders,” Smith said.

David Villarreal, Graduate Student Assembly communications director, said he thinks the ridership data CapMetro used for this decision may be incorrect.

“Supposedly, every time a student enters the bus from either the front or the rear, they pass through lasers that count them,” Villarreal said. “However, if you go to any UT shuttle, you will see that the reflectors are only on the front door and not the rear exit. This is important because many students enter and exit through the rear doors without ever being counted.”

Columbia Mishra, Graduate Student Assembly president, said she thinks CapMetro and UT should have given students more time to become informed on the issue instead of discussing it in the summer when a majority of students were not at school. CapMetro held seven public meetings in early September and held a public hearing on Sept. 16. 

Mishra said transportation services should hold these types of public forums on campus because it is inconvenient for students to go to the CapMetro headquarters to voice their opinions.

Smith said the route cancellations will hurt graduate and low-income students who live far from campus because they will be forced to move to areas along shuttle routes, and these areas will have inflated housing prices.

“[This will] have implications for overall housing costs in all of Austin,” Smith said. “If people are forced to move into specific areas that are catered to by shuttles, that is going to increase housing costs in those areas.”

Biology senior April Shultz said she is worried about the CapMetro mainline buses becoming more crowded.

“[The 7 and 37 buses] are going to be really, really crowded now, more than they were before,” Shultz said. “It’s just not really a good decision all around for the community, for this area, for the students that live here and for the other residents.”