Some riders question the elimination of bus routes

by Bei Hu

University graduate student Michael Schommer moved from downtown St. Paul to downtown Minneapolis in June, at about the same time University officials began phasing out the Route 52 commuter bus system that could take him to campus.
Now Schommer is worried that officials will phase out the only remaining express routes that will get him to campus.
Declining ridership and a 7 percent cut in transit system funding during the 1996 fiscal year prompted University Parking and Transportation Services officials to redesign campus bus service last June. As part of the redesign, officials eliminated Route 13, which served students living on Como Avenue, cut back on Route 52, and created a new system of campus connector and circulator routes for students commuting within and between campuses. The changes came just as many students were leaving for summer break.
But with students now back for fall classes, the effects of the four-month-old bus route overhaul are only beginning to show.
University students, faculty and staff members have given the new bus system mixed reviews. Some describe the new campus circulator and connector buses as convenient. But a new pamphlet that uses a multicolored map key to illustrate bus schedules confused others.
“For one thing, (the bus routes) don’t seem to be very well-organized,” said Jane Pederson, a principal secretary at the College of Pharmacy and the School of Nursing.
Some students and staff members hope the transportation department will increase the number of bus stops on campus. Others are concerned with bus delays.
University freshman Elizabeth Drechsel said she is taking two courses — 20 minutes apart — on the St. Paul and Minneapolis campuses. She was late for the second class on Monday because the bus did not arrive on time.
“I know there are a lot of people on the bus who have the same schedule like mine,” she said.
Bus riders have complained to University Parking and Transportation Services about late buses and long intervals between bus pickups.
Paul Tschida, assistant vice president of Safety and Health Management, said no major problems regarding University buses have yet been reported.
“We want to wait a few days to see, and not just react based on one day,” Tschida said.
The most criticism of the University bus system has come from commuters on Route 52 buses. These routes link University campuses with Twin Cities residential areas, including downtown Minneapolis.
University transportation department officials estimate that about 9,000 people commute to campus via bus. About two-thirds of them use Metropolitan Council Transit Operations buses, which are not operated by the University. The Route 52 system, which has been running for two decades, serves about 1,800 University employees.
University officials have said ridership has declined on Route 52 buses. But no solid number has been released by the University transportation department to illustrate the decrease.
Pederson and Karen Meyers, a College of Pharmacy secretary, said riders have packed buses since school started. Even during the summer, a steady number of staff and faculty members took the buses to work on campus, Meyers said.
During the summer, Pederson and Meyers collected 750 names for a petition to save the Route 52 system. Riders are concerned elimination of the system will mean more time spent traveling on other buses, Pederson said.
Schommer said he is displeased with the University’s plan to give up what he called a highly efficient, well-used and affordable service.
Like Pederson and Meyers, Schommer said the University’s investment in campus circulators should instead be used to keep the Route 52 bus system afloat.
“You have a commuter service that is not used, and to a full extent, that is free, opposed to a bus service that is used all the time and charges money. I don’t understand how you are saving money here,” he said. “I really don’t think this is a fiscal issue at all.”
University officials said they are currently reviewing the transit system’s performance. Bob Baker, director of Parking and Transportation Services, said the phaseout of the route is not definite.
“We are in the first week of school,” he said, “I think it’s too soon yet to make any kind of determination as to what changes we need to make.”
University transportation services officials are also negotiating with MCTO to develop the U-Pass, a three-month discount bus pass for residents of Como Avenue between the Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses who were once served by Route 13. Baker said he expects the talks to take at least another year.
“We would ask people to be patient with us,” he said.