New buses are great, but we won’t admit it

When the wrecking ball brought down the old iron bridges in Dinkytown last year, the demolition was met by a collective sigh. Sure, the bridges were rickety, maybe even dangerous and certainly inefficient, but they had a quaint, idiosyncratic appeal. A similar sigh, or even a mild expletive, could be heard across campus this fall when students and staff scratched their heads and wondered aloud, “What the hell happened to my 13W?”
Over the summer, Parking and Transportation Services implemented an all-new campus bus system. Gone are the Blegen-Eddy and the 13-something-or-other Via Como North. In their place are the Washington Avenue Bridge Circulator and the Campus Connector. Many of the lumbering, smoke-belching busses have been replaced by smaller, peppier mini-buses, complete with disability access and the smiling mug of Goldy Gopher painted on the side. Nearly every dorm has to-the-door service. Standardized schedules and color-coded maps make getting around campus easier than ever. One would think the campus would greet the new system with a big rah-rah for Ski-U-Mah!
Wrong. The University community, perpetual Luddites when it comes to campus ergonomics, will take a while to accept the new buses. We are all a bit like grumpy old men when it comes to innovation. The University could install high-speed moving sidewalks, buy a fleet of chauffeured limousines and provide each student with a personal James Bond rocket backpack for intracampus transportation and we’d still find a way to moan about the way it used to be.
Figuring out the old bus system was a rite of passage at the University. Just like finding your way through the West Bank tunnels for the first time or successfully registering for all your classes in one attempt, understanding how to get from Bailey Hall to the Rarig Center in time for class was a sign that you had finally arrived. Also, making sense of the complex and irregular bus schedules was one of the few practical applications of higher calculus in daily life. It was as if the University was subtly telling you that yes, your education was worthwhile.
This year’s freshman class is supposed to be the smartest in years. It’s almost a shame that they won’t have the chance to match wits with good old Route 13. They’ll never have to sprint halfway across campus in a blinding snowstorm to (maybe) catch a bus that will get them to class just 15 minutes late.
The new bus system isn’t perfect. The mini-buses are a bit cramped at peak hours and will only be worse when winter comes. There’s only one full-time route to the St. Paul Campus, via the transitway, limiting service to the many students who live on the Como corridor. And whether we really need a bus to take us the whopping two blocks from the Carlson School to the Law Building is questionable. But for the most part, the new system is far better than the old one. Transportation Services deserves high commendation for the changes.
Not that any kudos are likely to come soon. It’s just not in the University community’s nature. When the new Dinkytown bridges open over the next year, you won’t hear about how they ease congestion and speed commutes, but rather how those old bridges had really cool wrought-iron trellises. Sigh.