Residents of the University Village at the southern end of campus are complaining this semester that inconsistent schedules and overcrowding on the HurryCane shuttles are causing them to be late for class and forcing some to walk in the sticky South Florida heat.
Danny Manimbo said sometimes he has to give up waiting for the shuttle and just walk instead.
“You’re covered in sweat by the time you get there,” he said.
Richard Sobaram, UM’s director of parking and transportation, said he is aware of the complaints and is trying to address the problems.
“We’re finding that students are cramming to get on buses to the Fountain when the Stanford ones are running with empty spaces,” Sobaram said.
According to Sobaram, nine shuttles run routes from the UV to Stanford Circle or to the Fountain behind the Ashe Building. The UV Express bus also runs only between the UV and the Fountain.
The Department of Parking and Transportation is encouraging students to help make the system more efficient by taking the first-available shuttle to either the Fountain or Stanford, both of which are near the center of campus.
Some UV riders said the shuttles are not spaced out enough.
“Instead of equal distances between them, four come by at once and then you have to wait 15 minutes,” UV resident Matt Bosher said.
Ideally, the shuttles are scheduled to arrive at stops every seven minutes, Sobaram said. He said that shuttle schedules can’t be tailored just around regular class times because some riders need to use the buses to get to work or the Metrorail station. Street traffic around the campus also affects the schedules, especially on busy Ponce de Leon Boulevard. If one shuttle is caught in rush hour traffic or has to wait for a light, others behind it catch up, causing shuttles to arrive at the UV in close proximity.
According to students, another issue is overcrowded buses. Some shuttles are already jammed when they arrive at UV and can’t take on many new passengers. Tuesday and Thursday mornings are often the worst times for overcrowding but even on Fridays there can be a shuttle crowding problem.
Chuck McConnell, director of contracts for American Coach, which owns the shuttles, said the company tells drivers “any time they come to a stop and there are more passengers than they can carry, to radio the bus behind them.” That way the next shuttle driver will be aware of the situation and can get to the stop as fast as possible.
The biodiesel shuttles can only fit 29 sitting passengers and another fifteen standing ones. The smaller shuttles sit twenty two riders.
Adding to the shuttle crowd at the UV are students who live in apartment complexes across from campus such as the Cloisters and Red Road Commons. They are allowed to use the shuttle system like any other student.
“Red Road Commons has put another kink in the system,” Sobaram said. “We’ve seen an uptake in the amount of people taking shuttles.”
McConnell said that because of the additional riders walking over from the Red Road Commons, they have needed to extend the hours of the UV Express to compensate extra riders. Sobaram says the solution isn’t as simple as adding more shuttles because it costs the university $130,000 a year for each one.
In the spring semester, Sobaram said riders will be asked to fill out surveys while they are on the shuttles and the new system will be implemented in fall 2010 at the latest.
“I’m thinking of making radical changes to the shuttle system to make it more efficient,” Sobaram said.
The plan would include four or five shuttles running constantly between Ponce Garage and Stanford Circle and another four or five running between Ponce and the Fountain. The shuttles should then arrive at stops every four to five minutes, he said, as opposed to the current schedule where they should ideally arrive every seven minutes.
“It would be more efficient, faster and would service 90 percent of riders, according to [shuttle usage] patterns,” Sobaram said.