A nice-looking Instagram photo of riders on the campus shuttle was posted on the UNC Charlotte Facebook Page recently; the comments that followed prompted this article. We hope it encourages even more conversation between those who use shuttle service and those who provide it.
Let's start by clarifying that the UNC Charlotte Campus Shuttle is a subsidized public service route provided by Charlotte Area Transit Service (CATS). Parking and Transportation Services oversees the service for the University. Now, on to the FAQs (and FHGs):
Why don't buses run on an exact schedule?
Schedules are posted here and are mobile-available via QR codes on most of the bus stop poles. Stop times are published as a planning guide and should be understood as "give-or-take 5 to 7 minutes either way.”
Reasons why schedules are so fluid:
- Buses get behind schedule. Shuttles aren't trains that run on a track with no interruption. Campus roadways are narrow and not ideal for bus traffic because the general design favors pedestrians. So, at peak times, when cars are backed up at familiar congestion points like Mary Alexander Road by East Deck, the Phillips Road traffic light and the crosswalks in front of Fretwell and the Union, that holds the buses up, too.
- Buses get ahead of schedule. Campus roads lack adequate bus pull-over areas. Therefore, when a shuttle runs ahead of schedule (which can happen on the runs between class changes) there's only one or two spots where drivers can idle for a few minutes to get back on schedule. Sometimes we hear they're sitting and doing this at route end-points like CRI, Lot 6 and Lot 8. PaTS has asked drivers not to do that because it blocks the roadway and annoys riders to see a bus sitting for what they think is "no reason." We have requested that CATS keep the buses moving continually with no schedule holds.
- Drivers take breaks. Shuttle drivers require reasonable meal and bathroom breaks like everyone else.
Why can't we know exactly when the next bus is coming via a GPS app?
- Real-time GPS information is not yet available from CATS. In a recent meeting with CATS, Parking and Transportation Services stressed the importance of having GPS with public interface. CATS indicated that they are moving toward fulfilling that expectation. "PaTS is committed to bring that [GPS info] about soon," said PaTS Director, Gary Caton, "and Charlotte Area Transit is making strong good-faith efforts to support us in that mission.”
In the meantime…
- CATS offers the RideCATS app for iPhone, Android and Blackberry as a trip-planning guide. All Charlotte Area Transit routes are listed, including campus shuttles Green Line (Rt. 49), Yellow Line (Rt. 47) and Red Line (Rt. 50). Unfortunately, Campus routes are the least likely to be accurate because they traverse compact loops that are vulnerable to traffic variations occurring around class periods. PaTS will continue to press for a real-time GPS info delivery system and/or app.
Why don't we run our own service or get some other transportation company to run the shuttle?
- Equipment, maintenance, insurance, liability, training, salaries, benefits etc., get cost-prohibitive quickly. Look at the transportation fee students are charged (it's a paltry $7 per semester) and what it actually costs to provide the shuttle; it becomes immediately clear why a subsidized arrangement with CATS is the best and most economical choice (for now).
- In addition, if a vehicle breaks down or a driver calls in sick, CATS has a deep bench of equipment and drivers to quickly take their place. That's an important advantage CATS offers.
Will shuttle service expand to a larger area around campus and/or weekend service?
- The Green Line (which runs from the remote parking lot at Starlight Cinema to campus) has expanded over the last three years to include stops by neighboring apartment communities such as The Flats at Mallard Creek, 901 Place and University Village. This was made possible partly because complexes assisted the University with subsidizing the CATS service so that their residents could ride free and because the complexes are on the direct route from UNC Charlotte remote parking. (People who board at off-campus Green Line stops without a Green Line Shuttle pass are required by CATS to pay the regular $1.75 fare.) This is a mutually beneficial arrangement because residents do not have to purchase UNC Charlotte parking permits and their cars are now off campus, helping to ease parking availability.
- The primary goal of the shuttle is to provide safe, reliable, handicapped accessible transportation that’s FREE for students, staff and visitors to get around the perimeter of campus, with service around typical work-week hours and when the vast majority of classes are offered. The secondary goal is to encourage parking away from campus core by providing shuttle service from parking areas at the campus periphery and remote parking lots. The service offered now meets those goals within available funding; broadening service area/times cannot be financially justified at this time. If/when this changes, so should service.
Other schools like Chapel Hill and NC State have great bus service. Why doesn’t ours compare equally?
- UNC Chapel Hill, Duke and NC State are examples of campuses that are either in or near the center of metropolitan areas. They have decades-long relationships with local municipal transit authorities. Multiple routes are going to/through campus anyway.
- By contrast, UNC Charlotte is situated on the outskirts of Charlotte. That changes the geographic equation completely, limiting the amount of buses that come out this way. In fact, there are only two: Rt. 29 (service from UNC Charlotte to Southpark Mall) and Rt. 11U (Uptown to UNC Charlotte via North Tryon Street).
Gary Caton, UNC Charlotte’s Director of Parking and Transportation Services says, “UNC Charlotte’s on-campus service is in its infancy; our shuttle didn’t begin until 2006. We first had to start the shuttle and get students familiar with using it. Now we’re focused on providing even better service that moves more people faster, and real-time GPS tracking.” And after that? “We do envision service expansion to cover more off-campus residences and points of interest.”
As the campus shuttle continues to evolve, the benefits are far-reaching. Caton explains: “The better the shuttle, the fewer people have to park on campus and less decks need to be built, which results in stabilized permit prices. A robust shuttle system also contributes to better traffic circulation and a healthier environment.”
How about putting up some bus shelters?
They're coming! Six shelters are being installed at high-use shuttle stops, with expected completion within the next 30 days. Shelters will be placed at:
- Cameron Road, near Wallis Hall, serving North campus residence halls, Lot 25 and North Deck
- CRI, between EPIC Bldg. and Grigg Hall
- Craver Road, between Burson Bldg. and the Student Union
- Craver Road at Auxiliary Services Bldg.
- Mary Alexander Rd., between Fretwell and McEniry
- Lot 6, near the Cameron Rd and John Kirk Rd. intersection
An additional shelter will be placed at Lot 27 on Toby Creek Rd., to be utilized for special events and future use.
Whom do I contact for questions/complaints about the shuttle?
Starr Wimberly is the Transportation Manager for PaTS: firstname.lastname@example.org; 704-687-0279. Parking and Transportation Services welcomes your questions and comments about the shuttle. In fact, some of the adjustments made to routes and stops are the result of student and staff suggestions. Complaints are passed immediately on to CATS supervisors and Parking and Transportation Services does follow-up on them.