Effective public transportation is what connects large, fragmented communities such as the University of Connecticut. With over 32,000 students and thousands of faculty and staff spread across five campuses — Avery Point, Hartford, Waterbury, Stamford and Storrs —the volume of community members with unique transportation needs is enormous.
For the significant portion of students, faculty and university employees that do not have access to personal transportation, their ability to benefit equally from this institution academically and financially is contingent on UConn providing an accessible, intelligent and safe system that can get them where they need to go to the greatest possible degree. However, UConn has not demonstrated that this critical function in its everyday operation is an ongoing priority.
Faced with such a monumental challenge, The Daily Campus Editorial Board is under no illusions that UConn Transportation Services can create road and bus infrastructure that perfectly accommodates each constituent. Still, we are alarmed by accounts detailing major disruptions in UConn bus services and lack of reliability from the UConn bus app, Passio Go, according to reporting by The Daily Campus.
The department of Transportation services is housed under Facilities Operations, which maintains the facilities UConn community members enjoy at the Storrs and regional campuses, and is charged with providing “safe, clean and timely passenger services to the Storrs campus and surrounding area.” Although at face value Transportation Services may appear to be a benign administrative body, transportation has long been a flashpoint for the UConn community.
In 2018, UConn Undergraduate Student Government approved “A Joint Resolution Concerning UConn Transportation Services,” according to a letter to the editor submitted to The Daily Campus by then-Public Relations Director for USG, Omar Taweh. Taweh wrote that “97.4% of respondents either agree or strongly agree that there is a need for a comprehensive transportation services reform on campus,” according to data collected from a USG survey polling student attitudes toward changes to bus routes and parking services.
The significance of transportation at UConn isn’t just a matter of significance; in December of 2021, a graduate student was struck by a vehicle in the middle of a crosswalk on South Eagleville Road and passed away later that night, according to The Daily Campus.
As the Editorial Board discussed at the time, it is costly and nuanced to make all of the improvements required to bolster public safety and the quality of transportation more broadly. However, student concerns about discrepancies in bus routes and errors in the Passio Go app are problems stemming from a simple problem with a simple solution. The latest complaints concerning Transportation Services signal a lack of direct, mutual communication between the department and the population is meant to serve — that is, dialogue led equitably by both administrators and students. This void may exist for a number of reasons, such as lack of awareness about proper channels for students to voice their transportation concerns.
And while the Transportation Services website does have an online contact form for community members to give feedback and ask questions, it would not be reasonable to assert that individual student testimonies can optimize the route of a shuttle bus or fix a glitch in a third-party app. Additionally, the everyday demands of school and work for both students and university employees limit the ability of individuals to be champions for transportation changes on and around campus.
The Editorial Board believes that the UConn administration, being infinitely-better resourced than the average student, is uniquely situated to create an accessible, engaging and personal channel for community members to transmit feedback about Transportation Services by instituting the role of a community liaison.
A community liaison is a position rife with potential for improving relations between Transportation Services and its constituents. If hired from the ranks of the student body, a liaison could put a familiar face on a department that receives much ire in everyday conversations around campus, presenting a public relations win for the university and a useful asset for students. Taking cues from the Office of the Provost, a liaison could take initiatives on town halls and listening sessions that put community input first and use it to inform policy making and long-term planning.
We understand the creation of another university position meant to garner student engagement risks being rendered performative and inept as much as the rest of them; this is par for the course for all universities that hold their bottom line at the highest esteem. However, if UConn wants to take meaningful steps to demonstrate that its students and community members are their priority, then transportation must be a priority as well. Soliciting and rewarding student engagement with the administrative bodies that govern their daily lives is not a “should,” but a “must.”