THE HARVARD SHUTTLE SERVICE?
Officials boast of better scheduling and safety, and contend that further improvements are on the way. But students still complain of overcrowding and long waits. Is there a need for a more drastic change in
While many Harvard students start their mornings negotiating with snooze buttons and jockeying with roommates for use of the shower, the daily routine of Eryn E. Ament '95 begins with a more detailed game-plan.
Ament says she must wake up every morning plotting how she will push and shove her way past swarms of Quadlings and onto the shuttle bus--if she wants to get to class on time.
The overcrowded and often tardy shuttles are enough to ruin anyone's day, she says, especially in the cold and wet winter mornings.
"It's the most miserable way to start your day," says Ament, a Currier resident. "You can be the first one out there waiting for that shuttle, but if you don't rush hard you get jostled and banged and you might not even get in."
The shuttle system that transports members of the Harvard community around campus is no different than most other services provided by the University--from the dining services to dorm crew--as students continually ask for improvement in every service.
They voice complaints with the shuttle system that range from overcrowding at peak hours to a dearth of service at other times.
But Carl A. Tempesta, manager of the shuttle system, says the service has constantly tried to keep up with the changing needs of the Harvard community since it began as an evening security service in 1973.
He says the quality of service has gradually improved, growing to its current fleet of six shuttle buses that drives students across campus from 7:45 a.m. to 1 a.m. on weekdays, and until 2 a.m. on weekends. The buses now provide 450,000 rides per year, he says.
The service also includes three shuttle vans that transport Harvard affilitates who have physical disabilities and are unable to safely use the buses, Tempesta says.
Efforts have been made to improve the service, especially by increasing the number of runs through the heavy traffic routes like the Mather House to Memorial Hall to Currier House circuit, Tempesta says. The graduate schools have not been forgotten either, with special stops at the Law School, Business School and Kennedy School of Government.
Even the most diehard shuttle critics seem appreciative of the recent innovations--including Ament from Currier House.
"The shuttles are like a blessing in disguise that nobody notices," Ament says. "People always gripe when its late, but on a [wet, cold] night like tonight people really are grateful for it."
Those positive comments are often drowned out by the chorus of complaints that continue despite the ongoing shuttle improvements.
Most people on a drizzly and cold Saturday afternoon last month looked grateful to be getting on a bus and avoiding a long walk in the cold rain. But they faulted the system, saying it is plagued by lax drivers, overcrowded buses and a lack of service at certain hours.
"One thing I don't like about the shuttles is that big gap in the afternoon when no shuttles come to Memorial Hall," says Bethany M. Allen '94. "Someone said the administration said that kids just want to go back to their rooms and sleep at that hour, but that's really lame."
Another common cry among frequent shuttle riders is that there should be more shuttles and more frequent service to heavy transit areas such as Currier and Memorial Hall.
Tempesta, who acknowledges that the shuttle system is not perfect, says plans are in the works for further improvements. To alleviate the overcrowding problem at lunchtime, he says a second bus was recently added to the 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. time slot on weekdays.
But the overcrowded conditions are especially evident during the early morning runs between Currier and Memorial Hall. A mass of people usually gather outside of Currier and immediately begin fighting for position by the shuttle doors as it rolls to a stop.
"People are vicious in the morning," says Johanna A. Amianda '95, a Currier resident. "When it's raining and I've tried to get on the bus, I've gotten elbowed and pushed. Everyone wants to get on, but it gets so crowded that the driver has to shut the door. It's survival of the fittest."
Some students who have supposedly been accommodated with special stops also say they are unhappy with the service.
"Most of the time they don't stop at 29G," says Margarita L. Laplaza '96. "One morning this [shuttle] driver saw me standing there at 29G and I waved to him. Even though he was stopped at a red light he just saw me wave at him, but he didn't even wait. He just left."
Tempesta says the shuttle service constantly monitors the routes to make sure the drivers are at the designated spots on schedule.
"We're trying to set up a tracking system to see if we have a problem with a certain shuttle's schedule," Tempesta says. "If we see that a shuttle's continuously late to a certain stop, we'll have to change the schedule to accomodate that."
Color-coded schedules will soon be published to alleviate the ambiguity surrounding the routes, Tempesta says. He also says the service might consider better lighting and rain shelter for the stops in the future.
Full-time driver and student-driver coordinator Richard W. Aufiero says that innovations, including more shuttle runs, are not easy to implement because the shuttle system operates under limited financial funding.
The shuttles system operates with a "breakeven" annual expense budget of more than $400,000, most of which covers salaries and maintenance, Tempesta says.
With over 60 weekly shifts, Aufiero says there are about 20 student drivers, supplemented by six "casual" drivers who are hired at union wages to work the morning and day shifts when the student drivers have classes.
Most students work about two shifts of four or five hours each week, earning $7.40 per hour the first semester and $7.85 per hour after that, Tempesta says.
One justification for more shuttle runs is that the buses are often well over their passenger capacity.
Student drivers Frank Fronhofer '93 and Mike P. Twohig '92-93 say they have had 68 and 67 passengers, respectively, on their shuttles.
Tempesta says the buses often carry many more than the suggested limit of 42 passengers--and he acknowledges that this is a danger to everybody involved.
"Anything over 45 people is a lot," Tempesta says. "When you get to numbers that high and beyond, you are really jeopardizing the situation by having the potential for an accident with that many people."
Tempesta says drivers find it difficult to tell people who have been waiting for over 20 minutes that they must wait for the next bus, especially when they need to get to classes.
But the drivers are instructed to obey the official policy, which requires them to turn people away or to put the bus in park if the extra people refuse to get off the bus, he says.
While overcrowding remains a safety hazard, the shuttle service has improved in some other problems areas, including dangerous drivers.
The shuttle program is more organized than it was a few years ago when students had greater control and "things were a lot wilder," Auferio says. While student managers used to assign shifts to other students, Aufiero has taken over that responsibility and says he has added more stability to the program.
"Back then, drivers were crazy," he says. "Students were flying around in the bus and some of the drivers didn't even have valid licenses [to drive buses]."
Twohig, a senior who returned to the shuttle service after taking a year off from Harvard, says the students now have less control over daily operations than during his first few years of college. But while the shuttle system was more fun before, he says it is much safer now.
Twohig's driving adventures began the very first time he stepped inside a shuttle when his leader from the Freshman Outdoor Program, who was also in charge of driver training, took him for a ride.
"At the beginning of Freshman Week, we took a shuttle out to the Business School and he began to show me how to drive," Twohig says.
"We rode around okay for a while and finally we stopped at Baskin Robbins. Then, he suddenly looked at his watch, and said `Why don't you just drive my shift this time?' and left the bus. I wound up doing his run without having any idea where anything was," he says.
In the current shuttle program, would-be drivers are required to take six hours of training and learn the rules book, Auferio says. Only two were rejected last year.
"There's a two week waiting period for the license and then they're ready to go," he says.
But Fronhofer says he had just a little more trouble in earning his bus license. "The first time I took the test...I ran a stop sign and failed," says Fronhofer, who passed the exam on his second try.
Aside from a collision last year between a shuttle bus and a police cruiser, the shuttle drivers have avoided trouble with the police, Fronhofer says.
"I'm sure some people get tickets," Fronhofer says. "But I haven't, and I don't know anyone who has."
Twohig says that the changes from two years ago extend beyond the safety and the organization of the shuttle service. He now misses the camaraderie that the drivers once shared.
"Two years ago, the shuttle system used to be a real fraternity," Twohig says. "Students ran the thing and we all knew each other and had lots of pizza and keg parties. It was like some people were into sports, others into final clubs, so our thing was like a club for people who worked a lot."
At one point, he recalls, shuttle buses began to disappear from the garage, only to be found a couple of days later in Boston or points west. He says the drivers were getting the keys at night at taking the shuttles out for joyrides or using them for transportation on dates.
While the job of driver has changed since he left, Twohig says that has not stopped him from trying to make driving the shuttle an entertaining experience. He tries to spice up the rides for passengers by blasting heavy metal music from the radio and engaging them in cheerful banter.
"To enjoy the job you have to enjoy meeting people," Twohig says. "Even when you're alone on the bus for a while, you still have a chance to think or just reflect on life."