Shuttle Vehicles Get Soccer Mom Treatment

With record gas prices and worries about rising pollution and global warming, someone at Transportation and Parking Services realized that bigger may not always be better.

Since fall, larger shuttle buses have been phased out in favor of smaller vans on city routes after 9 p.m., although the actual number of vehicles running has not changed.

The vans seat fewer than half of the passengers as the buses and do not allow standing to accommodate any extra riders. However, the change was made for efficiency, which is exactly what the new vehicles offer, according to shuttle driver Alan Bui.

“It’s nicer for me, easier to drive, [but] I can see how it’s cumbersome for riders since we can only carry about 25 people and there is no standing, but the route is faster so we can handle more,” said Bui, an Earl Warren College junior.

The change from big to small has also cut down on pollution, eliminating the large buses’ dependency on diesel fuel, according to Frank Buono, the shuttle operations coordinator for TPS.

The new system has worked so smoothly that most student shuttle riders have found no reason to complain about the new size, according to Buono. The faster new vans take 15 minutes per trip compared to 25 minutes the buses take.

“I’ve noticed I’m normally the only person on the bus at night when I ride around 10:30 p.m.,” Eleanor Roosevelt College sophomore Katie Clark said. “I think it was a good switch for the school for gas efficiency.”

The switch came after TPS examined student usage of the shuttles, community concerns about noise and the vehicles’ impact on the environment.

“With input from the community, as well as our students, we were able to provide more direct service to our more highly populated student residential areas,” Parking Services Director Greg Snee stated in an e-mail. “Changes were also made to focus on express services, which allowed us to better use the capacity of the existing buses at high usage periods. In addition, by converting to the smaller, more efficient vehicles in the evening hours, we were able to reduce the impact of our services on the community and still provide an efficient and viable service for our students, staff and faculty.”

Requests to tone down the noise from shuttle buses have come from La Jolla residents since 2002, Buono said. TPS has also changed the route to eliminate the heavily student-populated Gilman Drive stops to cut down on noise.

“We want to serve our customer base and keep our neighbors in the area happy,” Buono stated. “We feel that we can do both. … We made an agreement with a resident committee to burn cleaner and operate smaller buses after 9 p.m. This did cut down on the noise pollution in the area.”

The availability of student parking has had a direct correlation with the use of campus shuttles. Student-reserved parking spots, marked as “S” spots, have dropped from 7,043 in January 2002 to 6,460 this month, forcing many students to seek alternative forms of transportation.

As “S” spots continue to dwindle, more students have to rely on the buses to take them to and from campus, and the campus shuttle system has taken much of the transportation burden, ballooning from more than 18,000 riders per day in 2002 to over 24,000 currently.

In addition, the City Shuttle route has gone from almost 3,000 riders to almost 8,000 riders per day.