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University of Maryland cuts three local shuttle services


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Photo by Lucy Westcott. This Bowie shuttle no longer runs, leaving riders searching for affordable alternatives. The University of Maryland cut the Bowie shuttle service along with service to Laurel and Burtonsville earlier this month to save $60,000. The savings will fund the Shady Grove route, which draws 441.8 percent more ridership than the three canceled routes combined.

Photo by Lucy Westcott. This Bowie shuttle no longer runs, leaving riders searching for affordable alternatives. The University of Maryland cut the Bowie shuttle service along with service to Laurel and Burtonsville earlier this month to save $60,000. The savings will fund the Shady Grove route, which draws 441.8 percent more ridership than the three canceled routes combined.

Published on: Wednesday, October 24, 2012

By Lucy Westcott

Three University of Maryland shuttle services were cut Oct. 12 in a bid to direct resources towards a more popular route.

But some passengers on the routes are unhappy and say there was no prior discussion with them.

The Burtonsville (#100), Laurel (#107) and Bowie (#120) Park and Ride shuttle services, which each ran once in the morning and once in the evening, were used primarily by faculty and staff, according to an official announcement by the Department of Transportation Services.

“We have a route with a very high ridership, and the scheduled buses on the route were not meeting the demand,” said Beverly Malone, assistant director of communications and public relations for DOTS.

DOTS will put the $60,000 it cost to run the three services annually toward the Shady Grove route (#124), which would frequently deploy “clean up” buses to pick up students left behind when buses were full, according to the DOTS announcement. The Shady Grove route runs seven times a day.

During the week of Sept. 17, the Bowie service had 113 riders, the Laurel service had 85 riders, and the Burtonsville service had 220 riders, Malone said. The Shady Grove route had 2,265 riders, or 441.8 percent more than the three routes combined.

DOTS took the issue to the Campus Transportation Advisory Committee, which has representatives from student, faculty and staff groups.

“The question to CTAC was: ‘are we leaving behind riders?’” Malone said. “We decided to end the lowest ridership routes.”

For riders on the discontinued routes, brochures of alternatives were handed out. DOTS director David Allen distributed brochures on the buses, Malone said, giving riders the opportunity to speak to him about their concerns. At this point, “the decision was already made,” Malone said.

 “Nobody would have come” if a public meeting was held, Malone said.

The alternatives include public transport, such as the Metro and Metrobus, and a vanpool service using Zimride, a service that matches University of Maryland community members with riders for their vanpool.

Dan Thomas, a research analyst in the university’s planning office, rode the Bowie route for six years. Thomas said passengers on his service found out about the cuts “after the decision was made.”

“Some people chose to move to Laurel, some place without a car, because they knew there would be this shuttle, and now they’re stuck. They decided to do this in the middle of the semester, and that’s the most appalling part,” Thomas said.

“They weren’t going to tell us,” said Rosalia Webb, who works for the College of Education in I.T., and has been riding the Bowie route for one year.

“These guys can ride a luxury coach with satellite TV,” Webb added, referring to the large black and red Shady Grove buses.

“As we learned (on Thursday, Oct. 11), there is a real threat of police action if you don’t show your ID on (the discontinued buses), but if you walk on (the Shady Grove bus), they don’t ask for an ID,” Thomas said.

This reporter even walked onto a parked Shady Grove bus with Thomas to find no driver and no one asking for identification.

“We don’t even know if everyone on that bus is a legitimate affiliate” of the university, said Thomas.

Both Webb and Thomas will now take a combination of Metrobuses to get to campus.

 “They also said, ‘You can do the vanpool,’” said Webb, on one of the alternatives offered by DOTS. For a 15-person van, it costs $100 per month, rising to $160 a month with nine-person van.

“Then you have to get a driver, and you don’t know who the driver’s going to be,” Webb said.

“There are so many expenses… so you expect the students to pay $160 a month in addition to all the fees they have? That’s crazy,” Webb said.

Tanzina Iman, a senior economics student, lives in Bowie.

“I’m furious because all of us are paying the same amount of tuition,” Iman said. “This situation could have been handled better. Will cutting those lines off altogether really help conserve a significant amount of funding? No.”

With her bus no longer running, “for sure [it] means rearranging how I allocate my banks. My transportation cost will increase. Metro is expensive, especially when you have to commute on a daily basis during rush hour,” Iman said.

The $60,000 saved from the three services will go towards “making sure buses don’t leave people behind,” said Malone.

All Shuttle UM services are funded by student fees and are free to ride.

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