The university introduced changes to its shuttle schedule over the summer that have forced some students without cars to reconsider how they will go to and from campus.
UR Transportation created the new routes to replace the Daily Connector and the UR Downtown shuttles to take advantage of Richmond’s new rapid bus transit system, the GRTC Pulse, said Natalia Green, director of parking services.
The Pulse, which began operating on June 24, provides direct transportation to places UR shuttles formerly took passengers. Therefore, Green said, a major function of the new bus routes was to take passengers from campus to Pulse stations.
“All we need to do right now is get to the Pulse,” Green said. “The majority of people coming to the university will be riding the Pulse to Willow Lawn. There’s no need for us to go to UR Downtown, because the Pulse will take people down Broad Street. So during the busy part of the day, we’re just taking people to and from the Pulse.”
Because of difficulties with the Pulse due to faulty synchronization with traffic lights, UR Transportation has temporarily re-implemented the UR Downtown shuttle. The temporary route will operate until November, according to an email from the transportation office.
Students received emails explaining the transportation changes on June 22. Despite this, the university has been working on making changes to its transportation since Richmond city officials announced the construction of the Pulse Rapid Transit System a few years ago, Green said. UR Transportation had no way of knowing which changes would be necessary, however, until the city government settled its bus rapid-transit plans.
“We’ve been looking at this since last summer,” Green said. “We just needed the city to finalize what it was doing. Once we found out what that change was, we decided we would also have to make changes.”
The transportation changes have inconvenienced some students, whose schedules have been somewhat disrupted.
Although sophomore Taneha Fincher said she liked the new Willow Lawn Xpress route -- which runs Monday through Friday all day only to Willow Lawn – she also said she thinks the new routes would present a problem to her because she could no longer ride the shuttle to the Target on Broad Street in the earlier part of the day, she said.
“I don’t have a car, so I rely on shuttles a lot,” Fincher said. “If I needed to go to Target, the old Daily Connector made it easy. It ran on the hour if you wanted to go between classes. For me, it’s easier to do things before classes than at night.”
One of the new shuttle routes, the Evening Circuit, does take passengers to Target, but it does not begin operation until 4:05 p.m.
“Now that the shuttle doesn’t run until 4, I would have to wait until after my classes — and I work at the call center at night,” Fincher said. “It inconveniences me because my free time is earlier in the day and it doesn’t run earlier in the day.”
Senior Samantha Schwartzkopf said that as a political science major, she had relied on the university’s shuttles to arrive at her internships and jobs in and around the Virginia State Capitol. She expected to use the same shuttle and bus routes this year and was not even aware of the changes until the semester began, she said.
“I got down to the Transportation Hub on the very first day of classes and waited for the UR Downtown shuttle to show up, and it didn't," Schwartzkopf said. "I looked online and saw that it had disappeared from the record.”
Schwartzkopf said that after searching her email, she had found the message from the university detailing the changes. Still, the university should have done more to make sure everyone on campus knew about the new schedules and routes before the new semester, she said.
“They didn’t even send a reminder email as soon as classes started and people got back on university grounds,” Schwartzkopf said. “I formulated my fall semester work schedule in June around the availability of UR Downtown and having GRTC come down onto campus and pick me up in the mornings. I wasn’t checking my email for transportation-related material the whole summer.”
Schwartzkopf said she had sent an email to the Transportation office explaining the difficulties the changes have caused her, but had received no reply.
During the summer, university administration members were receptive to outside input about the changes. The transportation department held two town-hall meetings, one in June and one in July, to receive feedback from campus community members regarding the new routes. Members of the department modified the schedule to accommodate suggestions, Green said. The new Willow Lawn Xpress shuttle, for example, now begins half an hour earlier at 9:30 a.m. instead of 10.
“I don’t ride the GRTC bus for work — I drive to work,” Green said. “So I can make changes, but what I really need is input from the community and people who actually take the bus and the shuttle.
"We had a town-hall meeting to discuss what the changes were going to be and why we made them, and then we asked for input. I got a lot of feedback, and then we tweaked what we had to make sure it would work for the campus.”
But most students and many staff who use UR’s shuttles were not in the Richmond area during the summer and could not have attended the town-hall meetings. Schwartzkopf said she wished the university had done more to receive student feedback before changing the schedules and routes.
“I feel as though there should have been an extensive student input process where they contacted the students who use the shuttles most frequently and say, ‘Hey, how would you feel about these changes?’” Schwartzkopf said.
Full information on the university’s bus and shuttle routes can be found at transportation.richmond.edu.
Contact opinions editor Hunter Moyler at firstname.lastname@example.org.