By Eden Marcus
BU News Service
Boston University’s BU Bus, a shuttle which transports riders around the campus, is often overcrowded, late and out-of-synch with an app designed to show bus location, according to some BU students.
In interviews with more than 140 students along the bus route about their experiences with the BU bus, many complained about the service.
“Many times the BU Bus … is forty minutes away. I could walk from West Campus to East Campus in less than 40 minutes, which defeats the purpose of having a university shuttle,” said Gabby Avellaneda, a sophomore at BU.
BU Parking & Transportation Services says factors such as traffic and construction account for the system’s poor performance when it occurs and says the bus service is provided as an alternative to walking and cycling and not meant to be a primary source of student transportation.
Students’ main complaint is overcrowding. BU Buses, they say, are stuffed from window to window with students who are late to classes or in need of shelter from Boston’s unpredictable weather.
“When the most people need to get on the bus, it is always a smaller, single bus instead of a bigger, double one,” Stephanie Smith, a junior at BU, said.
There are six buses on the road at a time, according to Virgilio Alves, a BU Bus driver. A bus is taken out of service if it breaks down or when a driver goes on break, he said.
Students complain that the mobile app that tracks buses is not properly updated when a bus is taken out of service. Students say they are left waiting at stops unaware of the schedule change.
“The bus has driven past me multiple times while I’ve been waiting at the stop,” said Morgan Cope, a sophomore.
Billy Hajjar, the director of Parking & Transportation Services, said, “The mobile app should only be considered a guideline and it is better to look at the live view of the shuttles as they are traveling the route toward a particular stop.”
The live view is a section of the mobile app that tracks buses on the route, and shows their supposed exact location.
Unpredictable traffic and constant construction often interrupt the shuttle’s schedule, something students often forget to account for, according to Hajjar.
“There is always traffic, but we always try to do our best,” said Luisa Mercedes, a BU Bus driver.
“A major problem is one of alerting riders of buses that are driving the route while in service, but that will be coming out of service once they arrive at either Stuvi2 [Student Village 2] or 710 Albany Street,” Hajjar said in an email interview. “This currently is something we cannot correct, but we have made the case to the vendor [of our GPS system service provider] to do something in this regard.”
BU buses are operated by Academy bus of Boston.
It takes one hour to drive the entire route from West Campus to the Medical Campus and back with regular traffic conditions, according to one BU bus driver. When traffic is heavy, usually after 3:30 p.m. on weekdays, the route can take up to an hour and fifteen minutes to complete, according to one BU bus driver.
“One time I was late for class, so I went to the stop, but two buses were out of service,” said sophomore Nicole DeMarco. “If one bus driver is taking a break, instead of taking a whole entire bus off the rotation, just get another driver,” DeMarco said.
A driver’s shift is usually seven to eight hours long, including a one-hour break, according to a bus driver interviewed for this story. The first shuttle leaves at 7:10 a.m. from West Campus with the frequency of one bus every ten minutes. But starting at 10:00 a.m., the schedule changes to one bus every twenty minutes.
“Some students may not know this change of schedule and wait for ten minutes, and think that the BU Bus is delayed,” one driver explained.
Not all students are dissatisfied with the bus service. A small portion of the students interviewed for this story acknowledged the convenience the bus can offer when it is operating on schedule. Even though BU is considered a walking campus, its end points stretch long distances.
“My experience with the BU Bus hasn’t been that awful. Sometimes it is kind of late and sometimes it is overcrowded, but it is reliable so I am pretty satisfied,” said senior Ashley Guillaume.
Beginning this past semester, BU added an extra five minutes to the break time between classes, giving students fifteen minutes to get to and from class. The bus schedule was not similarly updated to accommodate the peak times when students begin to rush out of classes, creating, students say, even more of a disconnect between students, bus drivers and management.
This five-minute addition has led to even more ridership, according to those interviewed.
“It messed up the bus schedule. Now people have more time to get on the bus, so it is even more packed,” said Kyra Solano, a senior.
Hajjar said that the goal of the BU bus is “to provide an efficient and safe means of alternative transportation for students, faculty and staff between the furthest points of the Charles River Campus and to connect the Charles River and Medical Campus.”
He added that the BU Bus was never intended to replace primary methods of transportation, like walking, biking and public transit. The university houses 75 percent of its student population on campus, according to Hajjar, so the BU Bus cannot be students’ only choice for transportation because there is not enough capacity.
Haijar said his office listens to complaints. “In each case, we will respond to let the person know what if anything has been done to correct the issue.”
Walking, biking and public transit end up being what many students rely on when the BU Bus does not come according to schedule.
“I got a T pass instead because it’s so unreliable,” Kunal Khunger, a sophomore at BU, said.
Complaints about the bus service are not new. In Daily Free Press articles from February and April 2014, students reported to be irritated that there seemed to be a discrepancy between the officially stated purpose of the BU Bus and the role students expect it to play, as the bus is only meant to transport students from the Charles River Campus to the Medical Campus.
According to the article, Kiersten Utegg, a sophomore in the College of Communication at the time, created a petition that garnered 500 signatures in support of doubling the number of buses that run at peak hours.
“I wish that they would invest time in figuring out a system to get more buses especially during winter. I signed a petition for it. It’d be a better way to spend time instead of making sure that a few people aren’t on the shuttle,” said Alexandra Raman, a junior in COM at the time.
Parking & Transportation Services says it is working on improving the appearance of the shuttles. Hajjar said it is planning to refurbish all six of the BU buses, inside and out, over the next several months, “to provide the best possible riding experience.”
This would include new upholstery, heating and air conditioning, and engines. Students say they are more concerned with accessibility rather than aesthetics.
“The BU Bus has only been in existence since 2004 and at that time, there were only 2 much smaller vehicles traveling the campuses. We’ve come a long way since then,” Hajjar said.
(Reporters in a Fundamentals of Journalism class contributed to this report.)