Though the University of Connecticut student body has mixed reactions to recent bus line changes, overall ridership for the bus lines—and for Yellow Line especially—has increased, Katharine Otto, bus route coordinator for UConn and WRTD, said.
“Yellow had a massive spike in ridership… since last fall,” Otto said. “With the changes, there has been a significant increase in the number of people riding it.”
The changes were made, in part, due to a survey released to the student population late last year, after a demand for Transportation Services to listen to more student feedback. The changes altered the Yellow Line, which now services W lot alongside Green Line, and changed the way the Weekend line operates.
The Weekend line ridership has doubled, according to the data, with two fixed and connecting circuits on a 40-minute cycle, as opposed to last semester’s on-demand shuttle, which had significant waiting times, Otto said.
Associate Director of Commuter & Parking Services Dwight Atherton said the changes were made based on data collected from the bus lines during the fall semester and confirmed by the survey results.
“We used the survey both to confirm how the students used the system and how they would like the system to go,” Atherton said. “We’re trying to make decisions formed from data, and from responses from the students. The data told us how they were using the system. We believed we knew what they wanted, and [the survey] was a confirmation of our understanding.”
Yellow Line in particular received strong demand for change, Atherton said, which was made based on ridership data and confirmed by the survey responses.
“All [the ridership data] info suggested that the change in the Yellow Line would be wise, but we wanted the students to say so too,” Atherton said. “We were reluctant to make any significant changes over concerns over the changes made in the fall, we thought it was a wise one.”
So far, riders on the Yellow Line said they are satisfied with the additional service to W-Lot.
Sixth-semester applied mechanics major Peter Sweeney usually takes the Yellow Line from W-Lot where he parks his car after commuting from Willington Oaks.
“I try and make it to the bus 25 minutes before class,” Sweeney said. “I think [the new changes] were accommodating to students.”
Some of the bus routes still prove to be a frustration to students, due to limited coverage to certain locations. For Ph.D. statistics candidate Yang Liu, who studies and teaches statistics in the Phillip E. Austin building, leaving from his classes is a good deal harder than getting to them since there’s no line that goes directly from Austin to W-Lot.
“I feel like I’m using the buses less than before,” Liu said. “When we have class, it’s hard to catch a bus to get back to W. When you park there, you’d don’t have any choice [but to get a bus.]”
Not all of the changes requested were able to be enacted due to logistical issues, Atherton said. Hilltop residents in particular called for service to the Student Union.
“One of the difficulties with the Red Line is our inability to serve the Student Union the way the residents seem to want,” Atherton said. “They also want to circulate the entirety of campus, and to Downtown Storrs. But there’s not a single route we can [map] that would mesh well with the other routes that wouldn’t involve a transfer.”
The lines still operate on a transfer-based system, with one core bus line operating around the center of campus and the other lines connecting to it by way of transfer, a move which has been decried by the student body.
Atherton said the transfer system helps reduce traffic on the pedestrian-heavy Hillside Rd., especially around the intersection of Jim Calhoun Way, which will see even more pedestrian traffic with the opening of the Recreation Center in the fall, Atherton said.
“At one time, there was a pedestrian death [on Hillside.] It’s not a situation that anyone would want to revisit,” Atherton said. “Between the students and the Rec Center opening next year, we’re looking for ways to further improve the safety of that area.”
While suggestions have been made in the past to limit traffic on Hillside, enacting it would prove difficult with further planning needed, Atherton said.
“The idea of limiting Hillside Road to service vehicles and buses continues to be an objective,” Atherton said. “How you accommodate traffic around campus is still a question.”
Construction and the overall master plan for campus also limits how much the bus routes can be altered, Atherton said. However, while not all changes requested by students would be possible, Transportation plans to continue using ridership data and student feedback to influence how the lines are routed.
One of the ways data will be collected will be through an upcoming app which directly tracks the buses.
“We’re just getting through the validation testing for this system. It’s just about to go live for the student population to use,” Atherton said. “It’s much better for data collecting.”
The app will enter beta testing for students within the next two weeks, Atherton said. Those who expressed interest in receiving additional information about the shuttle system will be asked to be a tester, Atherton said.
“We’re hoping that by the 18th, we’ll be able to contact this beta test group and live-test the new application,” Atherton said. “If that goes well, we’ll be rolling out the new system to the campus two or three weeks thereafter.”
The buses will also have automatic passenger counting soon after the application goes live, Atherton said.
While changes for next year’s bus line are still up the in air, Atherton said data will continue to strongly influence how the lines are routed. Though another survey will be released, most of the route changes will be made based on ridership.
“Much of how we decide what will happen next year will be based on the data we collect for the spring semester,” Atherton said. “We will continue to survey the students, but much of our planning will be based on data from past practice.”