With finals a few weeks away, the last thing on many students' minds is getting downtown and having a little fun, but, for the few who do venture out of Hyde Park, transportation just got a little easier.
Following the recommendations made by the University's Transportation Advisory Workgroup (TAWG), chaired by Deputy Dean of Students for Housing, Dining, and Transportation Cheryl Gutman, the #173 bus will now run every half hour between 9 p.m. and 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday evenings, and will make stops to pick up or drop off students anywhere along the route.
The #173 route, also known as the Lakeview Express, is a University-funded bus route that runs from the Reynolds Club up to Belmont Avenue and Halsted Street on weekday and weekend nights, making a wide loop on the north side of Chicago.
"The major reason for the improvements to the service is to improve downtown access for students at the University," explained Anne Saporito, project analyst at the Office of the vice president and dean of students in the University.
According to Saporito, "downtown access" is always a topic of discussion at TAWG meetings. Due to various limiting factors, the members of TAWG decided to invest time and funds in the #173 as opposed to other means of transportation from campus to downtown.
These limiting factors include pending CTA cuts to service on other means of transportation, such as the Red Line. Because the University privately subsidizes the #173, it is not subject to such cuts, and these considerations, along with a decrease in its use, informed the choice to improve service.
Gutman reported that between one and two academic years ago "the [#173] service began to be used less and become less effective because of the lack of ridership and feedback."
"The changes that have just been implemented are the result of continuous feedback over more than one academic year that told us that riders found that the structure and management of the route were not meeting the needs of riders for predictability and frequency."
TAWG recommended a threefold plan to address these problems. Its goal was to increase publicity, the number of buses on the route, and the number of stops.
The primary recommendation involved publicity. The #173 was thought to have an "image problem," because students were either unaware of its existence, or had a tainted view of its service. Some people were reluctant to take it because service "was unreliable and it was too much an Express' bus to meet the needs of people trying to get all over downtown," Saporito said.
"I only take the #173 when I'm waiting for the #6 and it comes first," said Rick Carli, a third-year in the College. He complained that in the time it takes for the #173 to arrive, he sees multiple buses come by on other routes.
By increasing the number of buses running, TAWG hopes to improve the unreliable #173 service.
TAWG was formed to address the various transportation needs of the University community. In addition to Gutman, it includes the assistant director of Undergraduate Student Housing, as well as representatives from the CTA, Laidlaw, Residence Halls and Commons, Community and Government Affairs, the aldermen's offices, Student Government, and Inter House Council.
Along with the service improvements, TAWG has developed a marketing plan to address the problem of the #173's lack of prominence, as many students did not know, for example, that the #173 makes stops all along the Magnificent Mile.
TAWG members said they hope that the afovementioned recommendations will "bring the #173 back to what it originally was supposed to bea bus that ran with frequency and offered access to numerous areas north of campus."
"We are optimistic that these changes will re-invigorate this service," Gutman said.