NEWS

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January 23, 2009

Bus system freezes up

Students trying to get home during the deep freeze last week got a cold reception from University transportation.

Off-campus students complained of slow and inefficient bus service during a period made critical by the coldest Chicago weather in eight years. Crowded buses sped one after the other past students without stopping, and when several evening shuttles went out of commission last Thursday night, SafeRide shouldered the burden with hour-and-a-half-long waits.

Director of Campus Transportation Brian Shaw blamed below-normal temperatures, slow snow removal, “potholes the size of moon craters,” and illegally parked cars in many side streets, which forced detours from bus routes.

“That’s just the nature of the beast in this city,” he said. “It is not under my control to decide whether the city clears the snow or people decide to park blocking the buses.”

Mechanical failures included frozen fluid lines and dead batteries, he said. “And while we have spares, the number of bus failures exceeded the number of spares available.”

Shuttle breakdowns stranded second-year Ashley Lane, who had a torn tendon in her left ankle, on campus for an hour and a half last Thursday night. Her mock trial practice ended at 9:30 p.m., but because she couldn’t walk home, she had to wait until 11 p.m.

Student Government president and fourth-year Matt Kennedy received complaints from many students—and had a few himself.

“I tried probably four times to catch the 172 going by, but each time it was completely full,” he said. “It was frustrating because they were clearly unable to handle the extreme cold. This weather was predicted at least a week in advance.”

“I’ve never had problems with SafeRide before this,” third-year Yusuf Siddiquee said. “I never waited more than 15 minutes.” Last week he waited three hours.

Lane said the cold gives long waits a particular urgency. “You’re there waiting, like, ‘I can’t feel my feet, where’s the bus, the guy next to me has an icicle hanging off his nose,’” she said.

Third-year Brandon Lulay called SafeRide and was given a five to 45 minute waiting period. “Five to 45 minutes, that is not a time window, because you’re supposed to be waiting outside. That’s the idea, right?” he said.

Shaw said that because the Transportation office is not staffed by University personnel at night, the office will contact the University of Chicago Police Department in the future to communicate emergency changes to bus routes. “They have a communicative capability that my department simply doesn’t have,” he said.

Kennedy suggested that students make their concerns known to the University, instead of just among their circle of friends.

“I think the best thing people can do is email bus@uchicago.edu every time they get passed by a bus,” Kennedy said. “It would demonstrate the size and scope of the problem and the Transportation office would get data on when and where students are missing buses.”

Shaw was receptive to student complaints.

“I welcome any input on how to fix the situation,” he said.