October 20, 2009

Transportation director leaves U of C

Transportation director Brian Shaw left the University Friday, after weeks of student complaint regarding his overhauled UchicaGO transportation plan.

Student Government (SG) President and fourth-year Jarrod Wolf discredited a rumor that Shaw was fired Friday, but he did not know the exact reasons surrounding his departure. The University said it could not release personnel information.

Shaw will be temporarily replaced by Rodney Morris, who ran the Medical Center’s Transportation System before it was folded into the University’s last month. He will report to Chief of Police and Vice President of Safety and Security Marlon Lynch, who also oversees the transportation office.

Hundreds of students expressed dissatisfaction with the transportation system after this summer’s major retooling of the bus system left many disappointed. Among students’ complaints were reductions in night bus service and long wait times for SafeRide. Shaw was not available for comment.

Wolf, who worked with Shaw for years on transportation issues, said Shaw had addressed those concerns before he left last week.

“The reason why the routes are running later,” Wolf said, “is because I sat down with him last week, told him that this was a problem and we got it done.”

“This change will not affect our continuing efforts to revamp our transportation system, creating a network that is safe, convenient, and efficient,” University spokesman Steve Kloehn said in an e-mail interview. “We have made a number of important changes already this fall, and we are continuing to make adjustments as we receive customer feedback.”

In his four years as director of campus transportation and parking services, Shaw oversaw many changes to the University’s transportation system, including making the #171 and #172 free for those with a University ID in 2006. However, the department’s recent effort to create the UchicaGO plan left many dissatisfied. The plan originally increased night shuttle frequencies, while ending the routes earlier in the evening.

UchicaGO was updated Friday to respond to some of those criticisms. Shuttles now run until 3 a.m. on the weekends rather than 1 a.m., which should alleviate some of the burden on SafeRide, administrators said.

“The changes made last Friday in the length and frequency of weekend shuttle buses stand as an example of the ways in which the system is tailored to promote campus life,” Kloehn said.

However, similar concerns were made last year during the administration’s study of the transportation system at a town hall meeting. Shaw and Lynch were present at the meeting.

Kloehn said that while students have been advocating for more bus service for months, budgeting limited the number of buses the University could provide.

“Students have expressed interest both in longer hours and more frequency. Without more funding, that can’t happen,” Kloehn said. “We listen to students and take their concerns seriously, it doesn’t mean we can give them everything they ask for.”

Under the original UchicaGO plan routes ended at 1 a.m. causing many students to rely more heavily on SafeRide, Wolf said, overburdening the system. Wolf said between 1 and 2 a.m. during the first week of school, there were 165 calls placed with SafeRide.

“Think about that, there were 165 calls in one hour. If you have 5 cars, think of how you would pick all of them up. It would be a disaster,” he said.

Shaw defended his decision to shorten route hours earlier this month to the Maroon. “Ending the evening route service at 1 a.m. does not seem to be having an impact on SafeRide usage, as call volumes have not increased after 1 a.m.,” he said.

Nevertheless, he did go on to say, “Shifting some SafeRide requests to the evening route service would help to reduce the burden on SafeRide and perhaps provide faster service to those who move to the evening routes.”

Norma Torres, SafeRide general manager, would not comment on SafeRide’s response time in recent weeks. Generally, however, she said the program’s inability to handle large call volume often comes from weather and other external issues.

Wolf worked on a proposed bus route downtown last year with Shaw and “developed a friendship.” While Wolf said he is confident he can work with another administrator, he has concerns about the University’s commitment to convenient transportation.

“The University’s perspective [on the best way to run transportation] is safety and security. If it doesn’t meet the safety and security perspective, it doesn’t pass,” Wolf said, suggesting that, while safety is an important consideration, the attitude does not always meet student’s social needs.

Kloehn countered that recent changes to UchicaGO were made with an eye towards student life. “They did make a system that better matches the need riders demonstrated during the opening weeks of the quarter,” he said.

Wolf said he still hopes to push the route schedule back 20 minutes on weekdays in order to provide service to students leaving the Regenstein at closing time.

“At this point in time, I think that without a director, without Brian or someone in his position, it’ll be hard because I’ll have to deal with an individual who I don’t have the same level of trust or a working relationship with,” Wolf said.