Transit Services can still afford propaganda

By Jane

As a 52 express route bus rider for six years, I would like to thank Parking and Transportation Services for using more of their supposedly dwindling funds to put misinformation into a more than $750 full-page spread (Tuesday, February 25) in The Minnesota Daily. Is anyone in University administration listening out there?
I am suspicious of the figure that is used by Parking and Transportation Services that only 1,000 people a day ride the 52 express routes. Then again, I was suspicious when only a few months ago they used the figure that 1,800 people rode the 52 express routes daily. Since Medicine Lake Line’s bus drivers take daily tallies of the ridership, I called their office to verify this figure’s accuracy. The individual I spoke with declined to comment, referring me to Parking and Transportation Services. I can only assume then, that if that figure is accurate, it is due to the service being hacked back drastically by discontinuing whole 52 routes (D, E, G, S) and curtailing the number of runs per day down to one in the morning and one in the late afternoon. I must say that the Route 52 buses I see are always full and sometimes have people standing in the aisles.
As previously noted in another article pertaining to the Route 52 bus service, Parking and Transportation Services apparently routed funds that, in the past, had gone to running the 52 express routes, and used it to fund underground parking at Carlson. If it was so easy to dip into a fund to cover the Carlson expense, why can’t the same be done to cover the expense to keep the 52 express routes running? Why hasn’t Carlson had to reimburse this fund? Why has no one at Parking and Transportation Services ever really fought to keep this system running? They just rolled over on this (or lifted a leg to it, whichever analogy you prefer).
Why is there a need for increased campus service when most of the little campus connectors (which were funded by siphoning more money from the funds used to run the 52 express routes) are, more often than not, riderless? The only ridership demand I have noted is between the St. Paul and Minneapolis campuses. Other than that, most students walk around campus. Another point often noted is that this is a commuter university; the majority of the students live off campus and need a way of getting to campus. This also pertains to staff and faculty who use the system. Keep in mind that, unlike the students, staff and faculty don’t have quarter breaks. They use the 52 express routes all year long, every work day.
How many times does one have to reiterate that there is no duplicate service to the 52 express routes? This, I imagine, was the reason the system was set up 20 years ago for express routes to the University without transfers.
Parking and Transportation Services says it needs to improve service: faster, more convenient and easier to use. If so, then keep the 52 express routes the way they are. By comparing an average 52 express ride of 20 minutes one way to an hour or more MCTO ride, which includes transfers, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out which is faster, more convenient and easier to use.
The U Pass is set up to fail. Why does the University of Minnesota, a state-run school, want to finance a mismanaged city bus service? What does the University get out of this special deal with MCTO? What does MCTO get out of this special deal? Is the University of Minnesota supposed to bail out the city buses’ mess? The University obviously doesn’t have students in mind. They continue to try and force a pass on students when students have responded negatively to the concept. It’s not a savings for them; they have to pay in the long run through increased student fees per quarter regardless of whether they use the pass. Parking and Transportation Services is targeting customers it doesn’t have for services those customers don’t want.
The University isn’t getting better service out of this special deal with MCTO. More time will be spent transferring, and less time spent on campus. Also, what happens the next time there is a bus driver strike at MCTO? Rumor has it that city bus drivers contracts are up in May and that grievances from the last strike have not been resolved. There could be possible strikes again in the near future, although MCTO administration refutes this rumor.
Comparing the University of Minnesota to the University of Wisconsin — Madison, the University of Washington — Seattle or the University of Colorado — Boulder is like comparing apples and oranges. First, these other cities do not have comparable populations. Boulder is 83,312, Madison is 191,262 and Seattle is 516,259. The entire Twin Cities metro area has a population of more than 2 million. Second, these cities do not have comparable geographic sprawls. Our metropolitan population is dispersed over a much larger geographic area than any of these other cities. Finally, if the other universities have had success with a bus pass, it is probably because these universities are located on direct bus routes. There are minimal direct city bus routes to the University of Minnesota; all other city bus routes require transfers in downtown Minneapolis or St. Paul. This makes more congestion on the existing city bus routes. MCTO can’t provide a safe, convenient and affordable way of getting to the University. So why wouldn’t people opt for commuting by car given MCTO’s limited options?
When are people going to get fed up enough to fight for the right to have decent service? Keep the existing 52 express routes.
There are only four short months remaining before a fine, 20-year-old service to students, as well as faculty and staff, is dismantled and mediocrity replaces it. MCTO has already highlighted that additional 52 express routes will be terminated if and when they take over. Get active! Contact University administration and express your displeasure with the situation. Contact Parking and Transportation Services. Contact our state representatives. Given the ever-present shortage of parking on campus and the congested freeways, which will not be going away in the foreseeable future, it is inexcusable not to continue the 52 express routes to and from the University.
Governor Carlson has said it is his intention that the University of Minnesota be a premier university. Making commuting to the University more time consuming and difficult for students, faculty and staff will not facilitate the governor’s intentions. On the contrary, it may lead to further demise of the University through loss of students, faculty and staff who decide getting here is just too much trouble.
Jane Pederson is a principal secretary in the School of Nursing.