“Hang onto something — I’m moving!”
The driver’s cry barely reaches the back of the shuttle through the students’ overlapping conversations. They fill all 60 seats, and some stand in the aisles, gripping seat backs and the rails underneath the baggage storage area.
It’s a typical morning for Bryan Flanigan, a criminal justice senior who uses ASU’s intercampus shuttles to travel between the West and Downtown campuses three days a week.
“I see people standing and sitting in the aisles all the time,” Flanigan said. “I’ve had to sit on the steps twice.”
The shuttles, which are operated by ASU’s Parking and Transit Services, run from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. between all four campuses in two loops: one that includes the West, Downtown and Tempe campuses and another for the Tempe and Polytechnic campuses. The service is offered to all students free of charge.
The shuttles stop at each campus every half-hour, with a few hourly exceptions late in the evening. For some downtown students, the bright yellow buses provide an efficient way to travel between campuses, whether they’re going to class or heading home.
But during certain times of the day, every seat in the shuttle is taken and students have no choice but to stand or sit in the aisles. The resulting crowdedness raise questions about safety.
Coach America, who owns the shuttles, derives its standards from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. FMCSA does not regulate capacity, but it requires every motorcoach shuttle to have a yellow or white line at the front of the bus, known as a standee line, which passengers cannot cross while the bus is moving.
According to Part 393.90 of FMCSA regulations, “Every bus which is designed and constructed so as to allow standees, shall be plainly marked with a line of contrasting color at least two inches wide … so as to indicate to any person that he/she is prohibited from occupying a space forward of a perpendicular plane drawn through the rear of the driver’s seat.”
ASU’s shuttles sport a white standee line at the top of the steps that lead from the door to the center aisle. According to Department of Public Safety Officer Paul Mudd, shuttle passengers may stand behind this line, but they shouldn’t be sitting.
“The word ‘standee’ is there for a reason — as in people should be standing, not sitting on the floor of the bus,” Mudd said.
Students should also never be permitted to sit on the steps, said Michael Hegarty, communications manager at ASU’s PTS.
If the shuttle is full, Hegarty said, students should wait for another shuttle.
“That determination is based on the availability to fit more passengers safely on board,” he said.
Student opinions are mixed when it comes to whether or not overcrowding on the shuttles is an issue.
Michael Jensen, a criminal justice major in his second semester at ASU, rides his bicycle from his house to the shuttle stop on the West campus, and then takes the shuttle downtown to go to class.
Depending on the time of day, Jensen said, the buses either have plenty of room or not enough.
“I think the issue is the number of students,” Jensen said. “It’d be nice if they could just make the shuttles three feet longer, three feet wider and three feet taller.”
Annie Brewer, a nursing sophomore, said she has been in crowded shuttles on occasion but usually only in the morning.
“I don’t know if there’s an advantage to adding more buses just to accommodate the 10 or 15 people who have to stand,” she said.
For Dominick Hernandez and Daniel Hatch, the student body presidents of the Polytechnic and West campuses, respectively, shuttle overcrowding has become a key issue. Hernandez and Hatch have worked to provide a solution to what they see as a problem worth fixing.
“The whole problem with the transportation issue is that … they’re basically running on an unsustainable system,” said Hernandez.
The shuttles are funded through parking fees, which Hernandez identifies as the problem.
“In order to expand (the shuttle system), you have to generate more revenue, and the only revenue source PTS has is to increase the price of parking,” he said.
Hernandez said the number of students who use the shuttle is an inevitable factor.
“My issue has always been with students who live on campus … who can’t afford to have a car,” he said. “You have to commute in between campuses, and you’re almost at a disadvantage because of the (overcrowding) issue. The only means of transportation between the Tempe campus and the Polytechnic campus is that shuttle.”
Hernandez said finding a financial solution is a complicated issue but a crucial one.
“It’s basically the same scenario that runs with everything else. If you want more service, those services need to be funded,” he said. “With overcrowding in the shuttles, we need more shuttles … but how are we going to support and fund them?
“We’re trying to find the most cost-efficient solution.”
Daniel Hatch said his involvement began when he received complaints from students about there being “standing room only” in the shuttles. The student government has been working on a solution since June.
“There is still overcrowding,” Hatch said. “Additionally, through our conversations with the student population, there is a need for more shuttles with increased frequency and extended hours.”
One possible solution would be requiring a student ID check before allowing passengers to ride the shuttle.
“Currently there is no system to check a student’s status, and we have reports that non-ASU affiliated commuters are using the intercampus bus system for transportation around the Valley,” Hatch said. “A simple ID check would eliminate this problem and have minimal impact on students.”
Hatch, like Hernandez, also mentioned parking fees.
“Parking and Transit Services has communicated that adding more shuttles would necessitate higher parking fees,” he said. “Our solution is to include access to intercampus shuttle use to all students who purchase parking passes and institute a small fee per semester for students who use the shuttles yet do not buy a parking pass.”
Despite concerns from Hernandez and Hatch, ASASUD president Christian Vasquez said no mention of overcrowding has been brought to his attention.
“I personally have not heard of overcrowding from the Downtown campus to other campuses,” he said. “I have a few friends who take the shuttle to Polytechnic from Downtown, and they don’t see an overcrowding problem when they get on the shuttle.”
The issue may be confined to certain routes or times. Several downtown students said they experienced overcrowding between the West and Downtown campuses primarily in the morning and late afternoon.
In addition, PTS received more student comments about overcrowding at the beginning of the semester as students were settling in, Hegarty said.
“We’ve worked to continuously tweak the schedules to benefit our riders as students have figured out their regular commuting schedules,” he said.
Hegarty said PTS welcomes student feedback, regardless of the issue.
“We encourage passengers to share their comments, good or bad, as we take them seriously and adjust our schedules, routes and operations when appropriate,” he said.
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