Significant updates and new programs are underway for Auburn University’s Transportation Services, and The Plainsman recently spoke with its director, Don Andrae, about the details of each new development.
Here are the major takeaways regarding transportation on the Plains in 2020.
National Bus Network Connection
German bus company Flixbus is bringing a network of national bus routes to the City. Students and residents can book one-way and round-trip rides to cities in neighboring states in buses that feature onboard entertainment, restrooms and free Wi-Fi.
“It’s nicer [than a Greyhound bus],” Andrae said.
The bus travels to several major cities neighboring Auburn, and the routes extend as far as California and New York.
Andrae said he feels “the best part” about the bus system is its inexpensive pricing, which is a benefit to students who don’t want to empty their wallet for transport. The price of a ride in the Flixbus starts at $7.99.
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In the past, the only comparable service available was Groome Transportation, billed only as an airport shuttle costing around $43 for a single trip to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta.
“If you were going to see Auburn playing in the Superdome, you could take a [Flixbus] from here to New Orleans for $7, and you’re almost there at the game,” Andrae said.
The company has already launched in Auburn, and customers can book trips through its website or a mobile app. The Flixbus stop is located at the intersection of War Eagle Way and Wire Road, next to the Village residence halls.
Tiger Transit has received substantial upgrades in the form of a GPS system and new security cameras on each bus, which were implemented over winter break. The cameras feature real-time recording, allowing footage to be replayed immediately, even as a bus is still on the road.
Tiger Transit is also replacing the TransLoc Rider app for the DoubleMap app over the course of the semester, meaning students can still use both apps. Andrae says using DoubleMap will authorize Transportation Services to submit revised route changes, which is quicker than the process for Rider.
“We also added into there faster counting, so that way we can get accurate counts of how many people are getting on at each stop by the hour,” Andrae said. “There’s a camera at the door counting people as they come on, so it’s automatic. Both the counting and the GPS tracking is done by DoubleMap.”
Transportation Services is also weighing their options regarding what company they will partner with for the bus system. Their 10-year agreement with First Transit expires in August 2021. But whether the University decides to stay with First Transit or partner with another company, Andrae said they still want to bring a new fleet of buses. He said the University wants at least 15 vehicles to be fully electric or hybrid.
Andrae estimates 55 new diesel buses will cost between $600,000 and $700,000 each, while the 15 electric buses will cost between $700,000 and $800,000. The current buses — purchased eight years ago — cost $500,000 each, Andrae said.
War Eagle Express
Transportation Services took full control of the War Eagle Express program, which was previously partly owned and managed by a third party, according to Andrae.
Four new golf carts have been purchased to pick up students, with one functioning as an on-call vehicle if needed during busy hours.
“The carts they were using were getting very undependable,” Andrae said. “The batteries on them were not lasting, and we run from 6 to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday and 3 to 10 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.”
Much like Tiger Transit buses, the carts can also be tracked by the DoubleMap app so that passengers know where to hitch a ride. Routes have not changed following the transition, though one has been added running from the Village residence halls to the RO parking lot.
The move also means students can now apply to drive an Express cart as a part-time job. A listing on Handshake until March 31 describes the position as paying $8.25 an hour, with flexible schedules allowing drivers to work on their own time. Applicants must have a strong driving record and pass a golf cart driving exam to be accepted, Andrae said.
Bike and Scooter Share
The War Eagle Bike Share program, a commonly used mode of transportation for students, could potentially have a new vendor.
The biggest potential change from this, Andrae said, is all 200 bikes could be replaced by electric bikes come August.
The University is also interested in bringing electric scooters to campus.
“Our risk management team is very receptive [to electric scooters],” Andrae said. “With the newer e-scooter programs, you can control how fast [the scooters] can go, and there’s also geofencing you can put in as to where they can and can’t go.”
These geofencing options also allow for configuring speed in defined zones, which Andrae said is appealing in a college environment. For example, if scooters were set up in the west RO parking lot, they might be permitted a maximum speed of 12 mph heading toward the Village residence halls. When a scooter drives on Thach Concourse, the maximum speed might drop to 9 mph once it recognized crossing zones, then down to 7 mph if the rider continued to South Donahue Drive, Andrae said.
Transportation Services is taking note of other areas in Alabama, such as Troy University and the City of Mobile. In fall 2018, Birds scooters didn’t register a business license before setting up their vehicles on city property. The incident soured the City’s impression of electric scooters.
“Even if we put a no-go zone in the City, we would not [start] it at Toomer’s Corner because otherwise, we would find 200 scooters parked [there],” Andrae said. “The way our request for proposal [on scooters] is written says that you have to come in with a program that you can present to the City and our risk management, showing them a pilot program of maybe 25 scooters to see how it works.”
Transportation Services will be in talks with the City through August to see if scooters can be brought to campus.
Barnacle Parking Enforcement
One new method of disciplining parking violators that’s causing discussion among students is the Barnacle. It’s a large square plastic device that parking staff affix to an offender’s windshield, completely obstructing their view.
Parking Services ordered a number of Barnacles to use when ticketing and are already using them.
“What we have done in the past is put wheel locks on a car that’s parked between two white lines, but is not entitled to park in the area,” he said. “If it’s registered, we put one, and if it’s not, we put two. That way, we make sure the vehicle cannot move.”
The downside to this is that offenders have to call Parking Services to have an employee remove the locks, which Andrae said can be inconvenient at times. In the case of the Barnacle, however, the offender has to call Parking Services to receive a four-digit code. The parking offender then inputs the code in the device and removes the Barnacle themselves. They are then asked to return the device to a drop-off box at the Parking Services office within 24 hours.
“Now, it’s much more convenient for them because they don’t have to wait for us to come out there,” Andrae said. “If we’re busy doing other things, it could be maybe 10 to 15 minutes before we get there.”
Some have found a method of removing the Barnacle by running their car’s windshield defroster until the suction cups of the device are loosened.
Andrae said Parking Services is already aware of this “hack” and cautions students against trying it.
“It has an alarm that goes off if it’s removed [without putting in the code], and it also has a GPS tracking device on it so we can tell where it’s going,” he said. “The key thing, too, is that we have the license plate number of the vehicle.”
If the device is not returned within 24 hours, Parking Services has the right to report parking violators to the police for theft of property, a much graver offense than simply paying off the ticket, he said.
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