Column: Buses cause fusses more often than not

Since the unification of the former PUC and PNC to form PNW, there has been an increased need for students, faculty and staff to shuffle back and forth from the Hammond and Westville campuses. Some students based primarily on one campus must travel to the other campus for a specific class; many administrators have offices on both campuses and are expected to be present on certain days and athletes practice and play on both campuses. This can eat away at gas money and valuable studying time. In short, the need to traverse between campuses is obvious and it affects a notable portion of PNW’s population.

This is where the intercampus shuttle system comes in. A brilliant idea by the university on paper, the service has been mired in change and uncertainty pretty much since its inception. The initial contract that was agreed upon between PNW and US Coachways called for smaller buses than what were initially used during the system’s first year of operation. These smaller, 24-passenger buses were not available at the time so they were substituted with 40-passenger buses. Having ridden both buses multiple times, I can say that the larger buses were, unsurprisingly, larger, roomier, more comfortable, offered more features and were overall more luxurious than the smaller buses that eventually replaced them; the buses PNW was initially meant to use in the first place.

While most of my trips on the bigger buses were almost entirely barren, perhaps topping out at 10 passengers for my most crowded trip, it was clear that the buses were too big for PNW’s needs. Not knowing about the contract situation at the time, I wondered why PNW decided on such fancy buses when traditional school buses seemed like they would suffice, especially during a time when PNW was facing an approximate $8 million budget deficit. It just didn’t make sense from a financial perspective.

Eventually the smaller buses replaced the larger ones, but by then, myself, and presumably others, had already grown used to the larger, more luxurious buses. My first trip on one of the smaller buses was overwhelmingly crammed and uncomfortable in comparison to my trips on the larger buses, but I probably wouldn’t have complained if I had never experienced riding the larger buses. Though not a fault of the university, it’s still disappointing to go from what I would consider luxurious buses to ones that are smaller and more uncomfortable than the average school bus.

Another issue was the pick-up/drop-off schedule. PNW made the earliest pick-up time 7:15 a.m. this year instead of last year’s 8:15 a.m. time due to user feedback. This is good that PNW is listening to its students, faculty and staff, but this meant that the latest drop-off time would be 5:15 p.m. instead of the 6:15 p.m. time it used to be, because it was determined that the 6:15 p.m. time was among the most infrequently used times. This directly affected me and my class schedule this semester. Under the old schedule, I could have taken a class at the Westville campus (I am primarily based out of the Hammond campus) and had enough time to catch a bus back to Hammond after the class ended, but with the new schedule, I could have ridden a bus out to Westville, but not one back, leaving me stranded. Obviously, this class was now out of the question, which made my schedule less than ideal.

To me, it doesn’t make sense to have a bus that will get you there, but not one to get you back. I think times should be extended until all classes on both campuses end for the day, even if some of the times are sparsely used, because I know students that are currently affected by being stranded at one campus or another, having to find alternate ways to return to their primary campus only to then get in their car and drive home. If it’s going to be offered, it should be equal to everyone regardless of their class schedule.

On Aug. 31, the university sent out a seemingly endless stream of emails to students, faculty and staff regarding a temporary suspension of service due to a dispute between US Coachways and a subcontractor.

“The subcontractor was dissatisfied and walked off the job,” Brian Miller, director of Public Safety, said. “The dispute did not have anything to do with PNW.”

While the issues were resolved by the end of the day, it definitely was a cause for concern for many. In fact, multiple students and faculty members were stranded on one campus due to the bus system dispute.

Road construction causing expected departure and pick-up times to be skewed are an issue as well. Unexpected things happen and are unavoidable, but given the already inconsistent nature of shuttle system, it was just another bump in the road for what should be a pillar of student/faculty service to be relied upon by the campus community.

I’m confident that the shuttle system will improve to a point where it’s a convenient and reliable service for the campus community, as the university has shown that it listens to feedback and implements changes based on that feedback, but right now it’s still a ‘great idea, but needs better execution’ situation.