January 23, 2009

As budgets tighten, new #173 route unlikely

The future of the new #173 route, proposed by third-year College Council (CC) representative Jarrod Wolf in consultation with the Transportation and Parking Office Director Brian Shaw, will not be decided until at least May and could be postponed indefinitely due to the project’s unexpectedly large costs, Shaw said.

The route, in the works for months, would replace the #173 and #174 routes, running from the new dorms south of the Midway and stopping at the Red and Green Line Garfield stations and at Roosevelt Road and State Street. The plan has been vetted by the CC and the CTA, but Shaw said it was unlikely to gain his approval soon, especially given the current recession, which makes it difficult to justify the cost. From a financial standpoint, it wasn’t panning out the way we wanted it to. The new route, dubbed the X173, would cost $145,000 more than the two routes it would replace and would only run half as frequently.

Wolf said he planned the route to provide key services to areas of campus that have fewer transportation options, especially East 60th Street, which will soon have close to 1,000 undergraduates living on one block. According to Shaw, his department recently commissioned a study to determine how to service those students more cost-effectively, but the results won’t be released until May. Even then, he said, approving the new plan is still far from certain. The University must ask, he said, “Do we want to provide these students access, and if so, how? At double the original budget, I don’t have that money.” Shaw added that money was particularly tight just maintaining current routes.

“We’re already stretched pretty thin. We’re already bursting at the seams on some routes,” Shaw said.

He said that if his office were to pay the extra money for the route, he would have to divert the money from another area, a particularly unlikely scenario given that the administration recently asked all nonacademic divisions to submit proposals for a three- to nine- percent budget cut.

“Budget cuts mean service cuts,” he said. “And if you cut [night-time] shuttle service, you cut the ability to provide safety. Cuts would mean increased exposure.” Wolf said that the Transportation office was taxed as it is, ackowleging that the X173 would be an added burden.

“The 173 is over capacity as it is. They have to increase service there, and that means more money,” Wolf said. University spokesman Steve Kloehn said that the Transportation Office, just like any individual office, may be spared from cuts. Since the cuts are being imposed on administrative units, individual departments in the unit could see their budgets remain unchanged if other areas of the unit cut enough to reach the administration’s benchmark.

Wolf said he was disappointed that the route may not debut next fall, but that he saw ways for the Transportation office to make money. “Hypothetically, we could reduce the 171 service to get a little extra money,” he said. “They could also implement a bus pass to be purchased for the 171 and 172. After all, if you’re a student that doesn’t use the bus, you’re paying for something that prevents you from having better service.” Since the Transportation office will soon be reorganized into the new Safety and Security office, Shaw said he has yet to reevaluate the budget.

“The chain of command has gotten murkier due to the transition into the new department,” he said. “We’re waiting until we have the new position in place and can take a holistic view of all the services.”