Transporting Students Across Campus

Ah… the life of a college student. Circadian rhythms that make it seem normal to sleep until noon and stay up until the coyotes are howling at the moon. Diets consisting of nothing but pizza and French fries and ice cream. Throwing a Frisbee on the college green in between classes. To those of us for whom college is just a distant memory, it seems like - the life. But college can be stressful, too. There are classes and exams ... and don’t even remind me of the pain of multivariable calculus. And sometimes it’s not just the subject matter that can be difficult. Sometimes, just getting around a college campus can be a challenge.

Universities are big places. Some are so big they are the size of small cities. Berry College just outside of Rome, Georgia, for example, is the geographical gorilla in the room – the biggest in the U.S. -- at 27,000 acres. The United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado comes in a close second at 18,000 acres. Lots of other institutions have campuses that occupy approximately two- to three-thousand acres. So it’s easy to see why so many institutions implement shuttle services to provide transportation for students, staff, and faculty.

At Baylor University in Waco, Texas, for example, students and visitors can ride the Baylor University shuttle (the BUS) for free. The fixed route service not only provides transportation to classes and campus activities, it also helps reduce vehicular traffic and parking congestion on campus. In addition to its regular service on class days, there is also an After Hours BUS that runs from 6:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Monday through Thursday. To make the after-hours service more convenient and predictable for students, Baylor has implemented a GPS tracking system on its buses. Students just download an app to their phones and can then track the BUS in real time.

Western Kentucky University (WKU) has a fleet of 11 buses that move students and faculty around its 200-acre campus and surrounding area. Like most campus shuttles, transportation is free. But Topper Transit is unique. The WKU shuttle service took a big environmental leap forward earlier this month. One of its buses is now running on biodiesel that the engineering students created from leftover cooking oil they collected from the campus cafeterias.

In addition to circulating shuttles, some campuses are trying out variations of on-demand service. These services typically operate late at night when regular service is over for the day. They allow riders to use a mobile app to request a pickup and drop-off location -- usually anywhere on campus or the surrounding area. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is currently testing a late-night on-demand shuttle service that operates after normal hours. Its service, SafeRide, operates as a fixed-route campus shuttle from 6:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. At 11:00 p.m., however, the service switches to on-demand mode. Riders can use a mobile app to request a pickup and drop-off at any location within the SafeRide zone. The pilot program will run through the beginning of June. Princeton University, University of Connecticut and Brown University are just some of the others that offer similar transportation options. A few universities like the University of Michigan introduced self-driving, Autonomous Technology with AV Shuttles on their main campus.

The shuttles at many colleges and universities do more than just transport students to class. Many will also take students to areas close to campus so they can run errands, or get to jobs and appointments. Shuttles are also really important on game days when gaggles of alumni converge on campus to cheer on their alma maters. The game-day shuttles often operate for hours before and after game time … moving back and forth between parking lots and the stadium, transporting thousands of people safely to the game and then back again to their cars.

So, why do students use campus shuttles? A study conducted at the University of North Dakota asked college students what factors influenced their decision to ride the campus shuttle. The top reason? Convenience. Other reasons included: time, accessibility, and parking availability.  But perhaps the most important service campus shuttles provide is safety. They are a convenient and reliable way for students to get around campus at night, particularly if they are alone. Shuttles can help with another safety hazard faced by college students – bad backs.  A study by a University of Indiana professor found that the average graduate student carries a backpack weighing just over 12 pounds. That’s a lot of weight to bear when you are hurrying across miles of campus.

So, if you have a college student, don’t worry if she stays in bed a few extra minutes in the morning. She can roll out of bed and hop on the campus shuttle rather than trekking across campus on foot. Sure, she can take the shuttle to pick up a pizza, too, but remind her that her mother wants her to go to class! And if you operate a fixed route service near a university campus, reach out to understand how they transport their students – you might just uncover a new opportunity to impact your community even more!

Photo Credit: Photo by Dayne Topkin on Unsplash

Molly Lepine