About 50 Shoreland and Broadview residents and staff members complained about the new campus bus system to Housing and Facilities Services officials in a heated town hall meeting Wednesday night.
The transportation office replaced last year’s lettered bus routes with more cost-efficient CTA buses during the daytime hours and separate late-night routes.
Brian Shaw, director of Campus Transportation & Parking Services, began the meeting by touting improvements and tweaks that the transportation office had already implemented. These included the introduction of two stand-by buses during morning rush hours to better respond to unpredictable influxes of riders, an increase in the number of #171 buses running during the evening rush hour, and a request for longer buses from the CTA.
Shaw outlined plans to install a webcam outside the Regenstein Library so students can wait for buses in the lobby, to relocate the East 55th Street and South Ellis Avenue bus stop to the entrance of Ratner, and to update the late-night bus fleet. There is also a proposal to install monitoring software that would allow riders to track the progress of a bus online.
But the mood quickly soured as residents began peppering Shaw with questions and complaints about frequent overcrowding, missed buses, inadequate shelter, confusion over stops, poor customer service, and an inconvenient schedule.
“For years the University bus system was run by housing to serve the needs of the housing community, and one of the things we’ve been trying to do is to get the service to work best for the whole community,” Shaw said. “Blending the systems together seemed to make more sense as [it] serves everyone who needs to move to and from campus.”
Students, however, complained that they have had to miss classes and ride on overcrowded buses under the new system.
“I just don’t understand why you’ve changed things around from how they were before. The Shoreland is part of the community, too, and has the biggest number of riders on this line, and we’re not getting the service we deserve,” said one resident, echoing the frustrations of nearly everyone present.
“I was out here last week, and when it is done right, this system works,” responded Shaw, to an audible wave of skepticism.
As the meeting entered its second hour and grievances mounted, the tone became more heated. Residents recalled tales of time wasted waiting for buses and expressed “anger” and “disgust” with the system. Students expressed further frustration with what they perceived to be overly diplomatic and insubstantial answers to issues they raised.
“He didn’t seem to take us seriously and didn’t seem to have much invested in the meeting,” said second-year Shoreland resident Alex Moore. “I know it’s unrealistic to expect things to change overnight, but I was expecting some sort of empathy and plan for change.”
The dissatisfaction peaked when Shaw again disagreed with a student’s characterization of the punctuality of buses, prompting Katie Callow-Wright, associate dean of students, to chastise his response.
“Brian, I know that you’ve seen the system work, and that it can work, but what I think these people need to hear is that you recognize that there are problems and that the problems are real. And that’s why they’re all here, and that’s not coming across,” Callow-Wright said.
“I think the issue is that his perspective and the student perspective is [sic] completely different, and it makes me feel like e-mailing with problems wouldn’t help,” said second-year Chantelle Pires. “I think what they need to do is actually listen. Our time is valuable, whether it is in class, waiting for a bus, or sitting in one of these town hall meetings, and I think we should at least feel like we’re actually making some sort of change.”
The administrators did seem to garner some productive suggestions from the meeting. Debbi Garfi, manager of Transit/Parking Operations, pledged to open a voicemail line students could call to report service issues and said that she would call individual problems with mislabeled bus stops to the attention of the CTA.
Garfi and Shaw also promised to consider altering the route schedules to better accommodate class times, standardize construction detours, and continue pressing the CTA for larger buses and improved driver-dispatcher communication.
The administrators also encouraged students to utilize the online bus service comment form at bus.uchicago.edu.