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A spirit that is not afraid

Students express frustration with the transit system

A Tiger Transit bus sits at the Student Center Loop with its "Out of Service" banner on.
A Tiger Transit bus sits at the Student Center Loop with its "Out of Service" banner on.

Students new and old awaited the new Tiger Transit buses as they made their way across the country, from California to campus, in the beginning of August. However, three months later, students have reported several qualms with the new buses, as well as the Tiger Transit system. 

In a recent survey from the Plainsman, students submitted their primary issues concerning the transit system. Participants expressed that they have experienced issues with both new and old buses. 

Monica Langan, senior in biosystems engineering, takes the only stop near her residence — the second stop on the South Auburn route. She does not pay for parking on campus and is therefore fully reliant on the transit system. Langan reported a lack of buses on her route and irregular timing, with buses arriving at 7:10 and 7:40, the latter of which is too unreliable for her early classes. 

“I hate to risk taking the transit to class,” Langan said. “I will only ever take it home because I have the time for it to take a while.”

Langan noted though her residence is far away from campus, there are two buses maximum on her route. 

“It is true that we do not have as many buses on the road as we would like due to a driver shortage,” said Chris Harris, associate director of transportation. “On a daily basis we are maybe five or six buses short out of the normal 57 we run. We are not alone … A lot of bus properties including Lee County Schools and Auburn City Schools are suffering the same shortage … We are actively working to have more drivers in place soon.”

Langan said many students — who have more buses on their route — can walk to class if they miss the transit, but she cannot. The transit takes at least 20 minutes from her stop to get to campus on the days with normal to light traffic. 

“If I miss a bus, or the bus is late, there is absolutely no way I can make it to class in time,” Langan said. “A bus will have to leave my stop 30-35 minutes before my class to allot plenty of time for traffic and walking to class … I just don’t trust the transit to get to me on time.”

If she misses a bus, or transit is late, Langan is forced to walk back up to her apartment, start her car, and drive roughly seven minutes to Auburn Church of Christ. From there, she will take a 10-to-12-minute trek to class. 

“There are many things that will slow down or speed up the time it takes a bus to run its full route," Harris said. “Some of the factors are passenger load, traffic, construction, traffic lights hit [red versus green], detours, plus others. We do our best to keep the buses on track, but it is inevitable that some buses will be late, especially during peak rider hours which is also peak traffic hours.”

“Buses arriving late” was the highest-answered option (78%) on the Plainsman's survey. 

Sal Vicusi, junior in special education, takes the West Glenn line to class. Viscusi said the biggest problems he has encountered are crowded buses and buses arriving late. He said he has been late to class “thanks to Tiger Transit,” but is usually extended grace by professors so long as he manages to text a friend.

“Recently I found out that if the bus is not at the stop, I can usually walk to campus faster than the bus can get me there,” Viscusi said. I think the … school needs to consider the times in which students come to campus and when they leave campus. We need more buses around lunchtime and rush hour.”

Depending on where a student lives, Harris said this could be “a very true statement.”

“We are at peak bus numbers at lunchtime,” Harris said. “Since there are two rush hours – morning and evening – we have all buses running during morning rush hour … Because evening rush hour is more spread out, [with] students leaving at different times, there are less buses required.”

Emily Love, senior in geology, takes the South Auburn bus route and, like Langan, does not have a parking pass. She said she has seen an inconsistent schedule, lack of air conditioning, only one bus running on her route and oftentimes the location of a bus is unavailable on DoubleMap. 

“Not enough buses on my route” and “Buses not running when I need them (i.e. extended hours)” were the second and third most-answered issue on the Plainsman's survey, at 65.9% and 52.4%, respectively.

“In the afternoon, occasionally buses will pull up to the stop and then turn on their out of service sign, no explanation offered, and I have to wait another 20-plus minutes for the next bus,” Love said “I waited for 40 minutes one day.”

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This is due to decreased ridership, Harris said. 

“Buses will finish their route, deliver all passengers and then go out of service,” Harris said. “This happens at various times depending on route, but in the afternoon, buses go out of service starting at 3, then 4, then 5, leaving one bus per route until 8 p.m.”

Love said she has never been late to class before since she gets to the stop 30 minutes to an hour prior to her class start time. 

“That sounds like plenty of time, but I’ve gotten close to being late before,” she said. 

Additionally, Love said the bus on her route often gets stuck behind other buses in the student center loop with students waiting on board. She asked the University better manage the process of loading and unloading buses in the loop, or address drivers who leave their buses unattended. 

“I've been at Auburn since 2017 and I've seen a decline in the quality of the transit service over the years,” Love said. “I appreciate that the University provides transportation, however, I feel there is definitely room for improvement.” 

Harris said transportation services is “doing the absolute best we can for our students.”

“We are actively working to hire more drivers and get them trained and on the road as quickly as possible,” Harris said.

Grace Purnell, sophomore in education, takes the Magnolia line, getting on and off at 160 Ross. Out-of-service buses, which seem to sporadically turn on their signs when they are pulling in to a stop, she said, have been her biggest issue. Purnell said she experiences this phenomenon at least three times a week. 

“When I encounter this problem, I usually have to rush to walk to get to class,” she said. 

Nicole Licavoli, sophomore in mechanical engineering, also takes the Magnolia line. Several times, she has experienced buses on her route that do not have their tracker on, so DoubleMap will not show that one is near. She calls waiting for a bus “a guessing game.” Once, she had to walk to an exam that she ended up missing, due to a missing bus. 

“Yes, Doublemap has been inconsistent and we are … working to resolve the problem,” Harris said. “It won’t be completely fixed for the spring semester, but again we are aware and are working to fix the issues.”

Buses sometimes arrive up to 10 minutes late, which Nicole chalks up to a “fluctuation.” She suggested the University create a better system for bus arrival times, in order that students can “be able to gauge a time more than just guessing.” In addition, Nicole and her sister Allison said they found that trackers are not controlled by the bus drivers, which is another amendment the University could make.

Arnav Mather, junior in electrical engineering, takes the Old Row and West Glenn lines. He said DoubleMap is often inaccurate, the bus drivers fail to leave at an appropriate time for students to make it to class and buses stop at inconvenient times, “leaving someone to walk to and from buildings and housing late at night or into the evening.”

“I spent most of my time last week at [a] conference shopping new tracking systems,” Harris said. “We are working to get a much better product for the future. I would suggest for safe transportation outside of transit hours to use the Safety and Security Van Service or the AU Lyft service. Details are on the campus website.”

Mather said there needs to be a driver on each bus at all times, to prevent overcrowded transits, and a more “seamless” approach to loading and unloading. He also suggested better training for drivers. 

“This transit system is the most inefficient form of transportation on campus,” Mather said. “It is noticeably faster to walk to location than wait for a bus to maybe show up on time and leave on time."

Heather Mann, senior in mechanical engineering, takes the Samford Shug line. She said this particular line combines with Old Row between 4:00 p.m. and 4:30 p.m., sharing only one bus. She said the timing for the swap is “very inconsistent,” causing her to consistently miss the ride she needs. 

“In order to keep everything covered for the complete service day we are having to combine some routes at the end of the day,” Harris said. “It is not ideal, but it is what we have to do for now. The timing will adjust based on what drivers we have available that day. We will not combine the routes until we have to.”

Mann once left campus and took the North College Line to Copper Beech. What should have been a 20-minute drive ended up taking an hour, due to unforeseen traffic and roadblocks. She said that delayed time estimates, and the subsequent lack of notice to students, hurts students who often "rely on a consistent bus schedule to get to class or work on time."

Jordan Branchman, junior in political science, takes the North Donahue line to and from Donahue Crossing and occasionally uses the College Loop for his job. He said he has been late to work before due to late transits. 

He also said the DoubleMap app proves unreliable in evenings when only one bus runs and the estimated time of arrival is typically incorrect. He said updating this ETA would help reassure him that he had a certain ride home in the evenings. 

“The overall longevity of the routes, and the time it takes for one bus to visit every stop, has been a huge concern for me,” Branchman said. “On average, sometimes it takes thirty minutes for some transits to complete a full route and arrive back to campus.

“Also, I have noticed some buses will wait 5-8 minutes at a stop, I'm assuming to average out the time for the other buses on the same route to get back to campus; however, from a rider's perspective this creates frustration. If I have class or work at 8 a.m., I don't prefer to wait for a bus that is stagnant at another stop, regardless of the intent or reason for the prolonged wait.”  

Harris said transportation services appreciates the student body’s patience.

“[We] ask that they be very aware of their class schedules, be out early for the buses and do not wait until the last minute to get to the bus stop,” he said. “We have supervisors on both campus transit hubs to help clarify any confusion on the afternoon route combinations. We also have a customer service window located at the Student Center next to the police substation.”

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