U bus routes to get an overhaul

by Kamariea Forcier

University Parking and Transportation Services officials said Wednesday that budget cuts have forced them to redesign the intercampus and commuter bus services.
“Given shrinking dollars and a general duplication of services we were faced with a choice, and we need to focus our service for the campus,” said Bob Baker, director of Parking and Transportation Services.
Four commuter routes — the University 52 D, E, G and S — will be eliminated, and Como Avenue buses will be limited to morning and evening rush hours. Baker said the changes, which take effect June 10, are in response to a $200,000 budget cut handed down earlier this year by the administration. A University funding cut from the Legislature sparked the budget reduction.
Baker estimated the changes in the 52 routes and the Como Avenue routes would each save nearly $100,000 annually.
Fees on the Como Avenue route, which are currently between 35 and 85 cents, will be set at 75 cents for all riders.
The original transit redesign proposal made in March called for an elimination of Como Avenue service, Baker said. The department revised the plan to include limited service to the Como area after Baker received more than 120 letters, several petitions and phone calls protesting the route cut.
“We knew we had a large number of customers out there,” Baker said. Duplication of routes used by Metropolitan Council Transit Operations buses prompted the decision to limit the Como Avenue route and cancel the 52 routes, Baker said.
The department distributed fliers Wednesday morning to commuters on the soon-to-be-eliminated 52 routes offering alternative commuter bus routes to campus. But many riders feel the options are inadequate.
University student Kim Pankowski, who commutes from Blaine, complained of the lack of service to her community.
“There are no direct routes from the University (on MCTO buses),” she said. It can also be difficult to get to campus using the MCTO routes, she said. “The 52 S is the only direct route from the Northtown Mall to campus,” she added.
Charlene Holmes, a University employee, echoed Pankowski’s sentiments.
“The routes given that are optional don’t get you to the same place,” Holmes said. “They take you downtown where you have to change buses.” Changing buses adds time to her commute, she said. The proposed changes make her “furious,” she added. “It’s the idea that they said it’s the same as MCTO routes,” she said. “They’re not. I realize (Baker) had budget cuts to make, but not to the point to cancel all the routes.”
Erin Willgohs, a College of Liberal Arts student, was also concerned about the changes scheduled to take effect in less than three weeks.
“I feel like they’re supposed to provide service,” Willgohs said. “Making us rely on public service seems unfair.” Willgohs, who lives on Como Avenue, said the changes will force her to change her commuting habits.
“I’m either going to have to take the MCTO route 6 or drive, or stay on campus all day,” Willgohs said.
Students were also critical of the system’s intercampus redesign, which will rely on four circular routes spread among the three campuses with one route along the Transitway connecting them. The St. Paul to Minneapolis connector route is scheduled to run every five to 10 minutes.
“If you have class in Folwell Hall, and then St. Paul, it’s going to be hard to make it to class on time,” said Jaime Luckey, a CLA freshman.
“There’s going to be added time for walking,” Luckey said.
Currently, students can take a bus directly from the Williamson Hall bookstore to the St. Paul campus. Under the new route, students will have to take a “circulator” route to Washington Avenue, and then transfer to the connector route.
But not all students are angry about the changes.
“If the connector is running every ten minutes, that’ll be more convenient,” said Kristen Vatthauer, an agriculture student. The current bus system is terrible, Vatthauer said, because she spends up to two hours getting between her East Bank and St. Paul classes.
Baker said the circulator routes will be easier for new students to understand because each route will be color-coded instead of lettered like the current Route 13.
The proposed “U Pass,” an unlimited bus pass for all University students, faculty and staff, is still in the proposal stage. Baker said his office is still working out the details of the pass, and will “hopefully be implementing it in the fall of 1997.
“We’re not done yet,” Baker said.