Scaling Back the Shuttle

Garaging the shuttle overnight makes fiscal sense, but other transport options are needed

Over spring break, Assistant Dean of the College Paul J. McLoughlin II announced that the College had ended its two-month-long experiment in 24-hour shuttle service. Henceforth, the shuttle will no longer run between 4 a.m. and 7 a.m. (8 a.m. on weekends). Although it will probably inconvenience some students, the decision is fiscally responsible and appropriate; it never seemed plausible that the number of early-morning riders warranted regularly scheduled shuttle service anyway. Still, the scaled back schedule leaves three to four early morning hours in which students have no transportation options available—short of being picked up in a Harvard University Police Department (HUPD) squad car. This is a serious question of public safety. During the hours that the shuttle does not run, the College should ensure at least some alternative transportation options are available to students.

According to McLoughlin, an average of just 0.2 of riders took the shuttle each hour between 4 a.m. and 7 a.m. This low usage, combined with the $1500-per-hour-per-month cost of running the shuttle during those times, presented the College with an obvious choice. Although we expected 24-hour shuttle service on a pre-set schedule would ultimately prove impracticable, the College’s dedication to the experiment—indeed even its willingness to pursue the experiment—is laudable. At a time when student safety has become a major campus concern, Harvard should be commended for exploring this option at length.

The demise of the expanded service should not, however, strand students far from their rooms in the wee hours. McLoughlin rightly notes that HUPD cruisers are available to transport students at any hour, but many students—for reasons which range from intoxication to timidity—are reluctant to ride in the back seat of a cruiser when they simply want to get from one side of campus to the other. Moreover, HUPD is not a transportation service, and they are far from an effective substitute for one. Many students who have attempted to utilize HUPD for a ride complain that because of HUPD’s other obligations, cruiser service is woefully sluggish, leaving them waiting for 45 minutes on occasion. And by three in the morning, the neon-vested forces of the new Harvard University Campus Escort Program have long ceased traversing Garden Street.

An all-night direct dispatch van service—an extension of the evening shuttle van—would function as a safe and attractive option for those students returning home in the early morning. The cost is surely great, although not nearly as extreme as paying for a shuttle to navigate a scheduled path. Moreover, more students would be likely to utilize personalized pick-up than would be willing to wait at specific shuttle stops at specific times. Harvard should strongly consider plugging the hole in its transportation schedule with this kind of service.