March 30, 2007

SG offers post-finals airport shuttle

Student Government (SG) launched an airport shuttle program that provided 400 U of C students with free transportation to Midway and O’Hare airports during the end of winter quarter.

Plans for the pilot program had been underway since the beginning of the quarter, said Donny Copeland, SG vice president of administration and a fourth-year in the College.

“We’ve been talking about this the entire quarter,” Copeland said. “But we started getting really serious toward eighth week.”

The demand for the airport shuttle service was higher than expected, said fourth-year Andrew Stergachis, chair of the SG campus services committee.

“What’s really surprising, we had sent out one e-mail, and within 24 hours we had 14 shuttles filled,” he said. SG responded to the program’s popularity by securing additional vans to accommodate students on the waiting list. “This was definitely a popular service which filled up fast,” Stergachis said.

The possibility of an airport shuttle service was first raised in a transportation board meeting at the end of last year. Financial concerns and the logistics of acquiring a transportation permit stalled the initial phases of the planning process. Licensing is an issue for all transportation services that charge fees, said second-year Charles Thompson, co-chairman of the transportation student advisory board.

“As far as we knew, [the permit] could have cost thousands of dollars. Also, it takes a considerable amount of time to get one,” he said.

SG circumvented the licensing process by making the service free.

The airport shuttle service used the same contractors that operate the University’s nighttime shuttles, said fourth-year David Courchaine, SG vice president for student affairs.

“We were able to get a special rate from the same charter service that runs the night shuttles,” Copeland added.

Stergachis said that although the shuttle service was independently funded by the Executive Slate, the University transportation department provided resources and contacts for the pilot program.

“We had the resources and the manpower to do it,” he said. The program culled expertise from University transportation personnel, as well as undergraduate and graduate students. “We worked with as many organizations as possible,” he said.

Several changes will likely be made to future airport transportation services in order to accommodate high student demand, Stergachis said. “One of the things I wanted to make sure of was that the shuttles ran on time. Because of this, we ran very conservative time schedules,” he said. “In the future, one thing we can do is service more frequently.”

SG representatives said they hope that the University will adopt a permanent airport shuttle service modeled on the pilot program. “[The pilot program] was actually really successful,” Courchaine said. “It’s foreseeable that a [permanent] service could be launched as soon as the end of this [spring] quarter.”

SG hopes to continue with the pilot program if the transportation administration rejects plans for a University-funded airport shuttle service, Courchaine said.

However, the cost of running a full-time airport shuttle service may be prohibitive, Courchaine said. The two-day pilot program cost nearly $3,000, and it was funded out of the Executive Slate’s budget of $15,000.

Despite the costs, Copeland remains optimistic about future plans for a permanent airport shuttle service.

“I hope the University sees this as a good initiative to incorporate into existing transportation services,” he said. “And if we can run the service using University funds rather than Student Government funds, that would be even better. But if not, I’m just happy we were able to help hundreds of students this quarter.”

University Transportation and Parking Services Director Brian Shaw said the administration is unlikely to implement a similar service in the near future. While the transportation department would be willing to aid future SG transportation services, it would not fully finance the service, Shaw said in an e-mail interview.

Shaw said University students currently have access to other airport transportation options, such as the Omega charter service, that are more cost-efficient than the SG pilot program.

“Based on costs incurred by SG and the logistics involved in offering the service, in the future this service might be more cost-effective to be done through existing airport shuttle operators who already provide the service to the campus community for a fee,” Shaw said.

“Instead of chartering buses, SG could provide vouchers for free or discounted rides on one of the airport shuttle services.”�