Many University of Chicago students have had the unpleasant experience, after a night spent in downtown Chicago, of waiting for the #55 bus on the south side of the Dan Ryan overpass on 55th Street. On a cold winter night with Chicago wind blasting off I-90 from the North, this can be a truly unpleasant experience, especially when the bus, which is supposed to run every 15 minutes until midnight and every half-hour thereafter, does not come. The cold weather notwithstanding, many University students are genuinely uncomfortable with the location of the bus stop, fearing that the poverty of the surrounding neighborhood makes it an unsafe place for an obviously out-of-place college student. While some students take these inconveniences and potential dangers more seriously than others, these concerns have become serious enough issues for the student council and the University administration to take action to address them, in the form of the new Red Line Shuttle service.
This new shuttle service is a terrible idea. While it may make students warmer and get them back to campus faster, it will not make them safer while they wait for it, and by only allowing University students to board the shuttle, it will further estrange the University from the surrounding community. What is particularly unfortunate about the shuttle service idea is that there are many ways to address the problems of safety and transit convenience in ways that would benefit the South Side community as well as University students, and would in fact address student transit woes better.
The University has many options available to it if it wants to improve student transit options. It could subsidize the #55 route at night, as it has done completely for the 170s buses. It could build or subsidize the building of a well-lit, sheltered bus stop for all to use, which would be a safer, warmer place to wait. If students are adamant about an express shuttle, it could subsidize a new bus to run from the Reynolds Club to the Red Line that anyone could ride, or it could simply allow everyone and anyone to ride the shuttle. Some of these options would cost more, some would certainly cost the same or even less than the current plan, and all of them would improve community relations and the lives of community members as well as students, with the same goals for student life improved achieved as well.
By running an elitist shuttle that highlights the differences in race and class between University students and community members, the University will needlessly damage relations between these two groups and add insult to injury for those community members already forced to wait for the late buses in the cold. The sight of a bunch of privileged and able-bodied students boarding a shuttle while South Side residents wait at the same bus stop will surely provoke frustration and outrage, as well as deep resentment of University students. If the goal of the shuttle is to make us safer while we wait, this animosity will do us little good.
There is no law that says the University cannot operate an exclusive shuttle, but it would be a mistake to do so. When University student services can also improve the community, such as the UCPD force that has improved the Hyde Park/Kenwood and Woodlawn neighborhoods, there is every reason to do so. By improving community relations, students are made safer, as are the faculty and staff who reside in the neighborhood. The Red Line Shuttle is the wrong thing to do, especially when the University has the option to do the right thing and improve the whole community. I urge the student body to reject this elitist new shuttle service and to push for something more inclusive that would benefit not only students by the community as well.