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Class is in session: The importance of Shuttle Programs at universities

Posted by Jordan Griffin on 10/11/19 4:04 PM

Universities can have student bodies in the tens of thousands, and not counting faculty and staff members. Campuses have restaurants, housing, and entertainment centers. Universities are essentially their own cities.

shuttles at universities blog

Cities like Boston, New York, and Chicago are home to some of the country’s largest colleges, while also housing some of the nation’s biggest populations. With the constant ebb and flow of campus populations, especially in smaller towns, colleges can heavily affect congestion. To mitigate local traffic issues, an effective shuttle program can be the perfect answer. 

You can’t park with us

It’s no secret colleges seem to consistently have parking shortages. Tales of students driving around for hours looking for a spot, eventually missing class, haunt college campuses across the nation. For most students, driving isn’t the best option for getting to class, but because of the amount of promised parking, it’s one of the most popular. That’s where campus shuttles come into the mix.

With an efficient shuttle service, students who live within a reasonable proximity to campus have essentially no need to drive to class. With strategically planned routes and equally dispersed stops, students would have no problem riding the shuttle for every trip to campus.

For students who don’t have cars, like freshmen, parking isn’t a problem for them — getting around campus is. The largest college campus in the US covers more than 47 square miles.  When class is on the other side of campus, walking probably isn’t the best option. With shuttles running consistently, students don’t have to worry.

Know on the go

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Most, if not all, college shuttles are on specific schedules. Routes may change depending on the day of the week or events happening around campus, but all-in-all, the schedule is consistent – until it’s not! Shuttles, like all buses, are affected by traffic, road conditions, and unforeseen vehicle issues, causing them to run behind schedule. But when students have set class times, the time it takes to get to class is an important part of their schedule. 

Having real-time information about campus shuttles is almost as important as the vehicle itself. This information – whether it be on displays around campus or in an app available to students – can greatly improve how the shuttle runs as well as the ridership rate. By providing this information both through an app and on displays around campus, students will have accurate shuttle information wherever they are.

Just get on, you’re going home

Shuttles are great to get students to and from class as efficiently as possible, but students aren’t just going to class every time they leave home. Shuttles can provide an added measure of safety for students who participate in social activities that take place outside of normal school hours and off campus. To ensure students get from point A to point B as safely as possible, running the campus shuttle to accommodate non-academic activities can prevent students from being put in unsafe situations.

Get in, we’re going to class

Like all public transit, campus shuttles are most useful when there are consistent riders. If no students are riding, what’s the point of paying to run the shuttles? Encouraging ridership, either through incentive programs or marketing efforts, will ensure ridership is consistent. There’s always going to be a natural need for some students to ride the shuttle, but making the effort to get more students out of their cars and onto the shuttle can increase ridership and lower local congestion.

Partners in ride

As we mentioned before, universities can be located within larger metropolitan areas. At a little more than a million students, the total number of students in New York City account for almost an eighth of the entire population. In Los Angeles, students account for almost a quarter of the four million people who live in the city. Needless to say, students can make up a large portion of city populations, and getting them from class to home and back is a challenge.

In these circumstances, depending solely on a campus shuttle program might not be enough. You can fill in the gaps like:

  • American University: Students at American University in Washington, DC, have access to a campus shuttle, as well as free metro passes while classes are in session. This gives them access to areas of the city which the campus shuttle doesn’t reach. (Psst! You can learn more about how we help mitigate traffic at AU here.)
  • Boston University: BU offers faculty, staff, and students subsidized transit passes as part of its TDM plan, as well as parking assistance at transit stations each semester. Boston is home to some of the worst traffic in the country, so it needs all the help it can get. With a total student population of nearly 350,000 – not counting faculty and staff – encouraging the use of public transit and campus shuttles can help make a significant improvement.

Country roads, shuttle me home

Most colleges aren’t located in cities with robust enough transit systems to assist transporting students to and from campus. Schools like Penn State are located in remote areas, where the school is the main part of town, with restaurants and businesses built around it. In these situations, getting students to, from, and around campus rests heavily on the school shuttles, and Penn State has risen to the task.

Penn State’s enrollment at the University Park campus consistently hovers at about 40,000 students year after year. Transporting that many students around a campus covering more than 12 square miles requires an efficient shuttle program! To cover all their bases, the university shuttle runs two lines with a combined 39 stops, each running every 15 minutes. To make the shuttle more accessible for students, Penn State provides real-time shuttle information in case of delays. For a school without access to major public transit, Penn State does a pretty great job getting their students from point A to point B and beyond.

Class dismissed

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There are many stakeholders who can benefit from an efficient campus shuttle system – not just students. Providing real-time information, multiple routes, and convenient stops can help reduce local traffic, as well as put an end to nightmarish parking situations. Although it’s ultimately up to individuals on how they get to campus, the effort of providing reliable shuttles, as well as subsidized transit can significantly help.

For faculty and staff members who might not benefit from the university shuttle, offering commuter benefits can be a viable alternative. Need a refresher on commuter benefits? Download our FREE ebook: The Ultimate Guide to Commuter Benefits

Topics: Mobility, Universities