CTA buses scrapped, UchicaGO under fire for overburdened shuttle service

“I don’t understand how you can build a new multi-million dollar dorm, have a coffee shop in it that runs from 7 to 3 a.m. every day, and not have transportation for the students.”

By Asher Klein

The CTA’s University-subsidized 173 and 174 bus routes were eliminated last month as part of the U of C’s new UchicaGO transportation plan, which has also drawn flak from some students due to fewer late-night shuttle hours.

UchicaGO was created to accommodate the University’s expansion south, but also to account for the transportation department’s reduced budget. The plan saved at least $750,000 by eliminating the 173, 174, Maroon and Phoenix routes, and concentrating shuttle service earlier in the evening.

Director of Campus Transportation Brian Shaw said the UchicaGO plan “puts a priority on safety and acknowledges the budget constraints facing the University, tailoring our resources to best meet the needs of students, faculty, staff, and community members.”

The 173 and 174 were cut because they consistently lost money, while the 171 and 172 broke even through fares paid by non-University members.

The 173 ran from outside the Reynolds Club to the North Side between 3:30 and 6:30 on weekdays, carrying 150 people a day. The 174 ran between Woodlawn and 57th Street and the Red Line, stopping at the Green Line as well. It carried 350 riders per day.

Student Government President and fourth-year Jarrod Wolf ran on a platform of creating a new bus route downtown, but said the money for his plan was used for a new day-time shuttle route, Route 200, serving the South Campus Residence Hall. According to Wolf, it would have been less expensive to pay the CTA to run the route, but he declined to comment as to why it was privately run.

The new shuttle system has buses leave the Regenstein every 10 minutes between 6 and 10 p.m. and every 20 minutes after that until 1 a.m., rather than less frequent service from 6 p.m. until 2 a.m. on weeknights and 3 a.m. on weekends last year.

Students said these changes were not only a hassle, but could put them in harm’s way.

Second-years Clara Spera and Sophia Posnock object to the fact that SafeRide has become the only option for campus travel after 1 a.m. and created a Facebook group to share their concerns.

The group, described as “a forum for complaints and suggestions regarding the recent changes,” highlights student safety and student life as the main reasons for revising the system.

“We go to a school in a place that’s not safe and it’s only been getting worse,” Posnock said, citing the string of security alerts sent to the community this summer. She said SafeRide operators kept students on hold “for at least 20 minutes” for the past week, and shuttles can take as long as an hour to arrive.

“I’ve already heard during O-Week of first-year students calling the SafeRide van, hearing it’s going to take at least an hour [for the van to come] and saying, ‘Oh, we’ll just walk,’” Spera said. “That’s not the mentality students should be having, that they should be walking across the Midway after 1 a.m.”

Shaw said call volumes for SafeRide increased during O-Week but “began to return to expected levels with the start of classes.”

He added, “the University continues to collect and analyze ridership data, as well as talking with drivers and supervisors on a daily basis. That information is used in a monthly evaluation of service, and will help us continue to refine and improve service as conditions change.”

Spera was dismissive of the University’s Umbrella Service, where UCPD officers drive next to students who don’t feel safe. “Perhaps that’s something doable now, but in the winter, walking isn’t going to be very easy and the UCPD has specific mandates not to let students in their cars.”

Wolf said officers have been driving some people home, despite orders to the contrary. “Let’s be honest,” he said, “the police have better things to do than drive students around at two in the morning.”

Spera and Posnock think students’ safety should be a bigger priority than the University’s budget.

“I don’t understand how you can build a new multi-million dollar dorm, have a coffee shop in it that runs from 7 to 3 a.m. every day, and not have transportation for the students.”

Shaw said data last year showed a sharp drop-off after 1 a.m., leaving only a “trickle” of callers until 3 a.m.

“Ending the evening route service at 1 a.m. does not seem to be having an impact on SafeRide usage as call volumes have not increased after 1 a.m.,” he said.

Wolf said he shares Spera and Posnock’s concerns over late night transportation but he was confident they would be addressed in the coming weeks, in part through a survey to be sent in a campus-wide email in the next few days.

He said he is talking to the transportation department to extend shuttle service on weekends and finals week, and guaranteed the system will be improved.

“This year it will never have been easier to move around Hyde Park,” Wolf said. “However, leaving Hyde Park will be arguably the hardest transportation challenge for any student, faculty member, or administrator in recent memory.”