Students need enhanced nighttime transportation

Ryan Young

Brace yourselves because winter is coming. For students, that means more than shorter days — we have more midterms, more projects and more late-night study sessions. All of which highlight the need for better campus transportation options after the sun sets.

Better transportation options? Didn’t we start SURE Ride just a month ago? Between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m., students can now request free Lyft Line rides from campus to residences normally served by UT shuttles. Clearly that’s a helpful option to have, but students are still making trips that we need to do a better job serving.

Consider the hours between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m., when the UT shuttles still run, but with a drastically reduced level of service. If you’ve missed a bus, you could end up waiting half an hour for the next one.

It’s expensive to run a big shuttle bus circling campus, and nobody is entitled to a bus within five minutes. However, there is clear demand for more service. As late as 9 p.m., the West Campus bus is packed with students trying to get home. Some stand in the aisles, avoiding other riders’ bags and suitcases.

But before the bus arrives, you’ll have to make yourself comfortable at one of the shuttles’ desolate stops. Despite the efforts of the University and the city to address concerns about gaps in street lighting, many of them remain dark and or poorly lit.

“Sometimes I wait like 20 minutes,” says Brandon Ivey, a sports marketing junior who uses the West Campus shuttle twice a week to get home at night. Occasionally, other students aren’t around, and Ivey feels uncomfortable waiting alone. Eventually, he gives up on the bus and opens his Uber app.

At night, students also make trips in the reverse direction — from home to campus to attend study sessions. I discovered this when I talked to students boarding the West Campus shuttle outside of campus. SURE Ride cannot even serve them, and they face equally long wait times for the shuttle.

Let’s run the numbers. This year, the University will pay Capital Metro approximately $6 million for 105,000 hours of UT shuttle service, or about $57 per service hour. A second nighttime bus on the West Campus route would require four more hours each weeknight. That works out to about $34,000 a year. We budgeted $75,000 for SURE Ride.

Adding more UT shuttles is an inexpensive fix that should be done. But even if that isn’t doable, we have other options to consider.

Let’s add additional lighting and bus countdown clocks to our shuttle stops.

Let’s think about pushing back the start time for SURE Ride and expanding the program to include reverse trips from home to campus. Even if the extra rides couldn’t be kept free, students would no doubt appreciate a modest subsidy.

Let’s ensure that students can go where they need to go — campus or home ­— safe and sound.

Young is a computer science senior from Bakersfield, California. He is a senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @OldRyanYoung.