En Route to change:52’s stay of execution

Last summer budget cuts, increasing costs and low ridership drove University Parking and Transportation Services to jettison four of 12 routes under the Route 52 bus service. Coming this July 1, the entire bus line is slated for elimination. But in response to complaints from students, faculty and staff members who ride the 52s, Parking and Transportation Services is now trying to raise $350,000 to postpone the plan for at least a year. This exemplifies how University administrative processes should work. The University community lobbied against a particular change in policy. More important, the agents of change took the community’s voice seriously.
It is apparent that the transportation department is acknowledging Route 52 riders’ concerns. The director of the department, Bob Baker, expects Metropolitan Council Transit Operations to pick up the slack once Route 52 ends. But that might not necessarily pan out. Some commuters argue that the 52s provide what MCTO does not — speediness and direct routes to and from campus. Their appeals have inspired the transportation department’s efforts to delay the inevitable, but economic constraints will make this a difficult task. Lack of funds pressured Parking and Transportation Services to prioritize its objectives and restructure the campus bus lines in the first place. Under its redesigned plan, it reduced the 52 service and introduced new and improved campus buses, the Washington Avenue Bridge Circulators and the Campus Connectors. These changes were justified. On a daily basis there are about 20,000 riders on the intercampus buses, but only 1,800 riders on Route 52. Moreover, about 80 percent of bus riders now commute via MCTO buses. Realistically speaking, something had to give. However, hundreds of riders, commuters and other interested parties believe the 52s are not at all dispensable. Through public hearings, petitions, letters, phone calls and e-mails, they insisted on keeping the service. Their campaign mattered. Much credit is due to these activists who vehemently expressed their needs and interests. The transportation department’s efforts to stave off the termination of Route 52 is also admirable. To keep the 52s temporarily afloat, the transportation department plans to request an increase in parking fees to support the buses. The ultimate decision is up to the Senate Committee on Finance and Planning. In addition, it’s likely that once the route ends, the department will again propose the U Pass plan. The U Pass, which demanded a $20 to $22 student fees hike in exchange for a quarterly discount MCTO bus pass, didn’t fly the first time around. With or without it, MCTO is at the forefront in replacing the 52 routes. If it fails to be an adequate substitute, more transportation problems will undoubtedly arise. The University, a commuter campus, has about 20,000 parking spaces and at least 80,000 people going into and out of its boundaries daily. Obviously, transit service issues, including the fate of Route 52, warrant serious public debates. Future discussions between the University community and the transportation department could produce alternative and acceptable solutions. Grappling with limited choices and a severe money shortage, Parking and Transportation Services needs all the help it can get.