Williamsburg bus system cutbacks leave students stranded

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September 30, 2008

12:43 AM

Most students hardly noticed the changes in the schedule of the Williamsburg Area Transit bus system earlier this year. Relatively speaking, very few students use the buses. Campus residents may only need to venture into Williamsburg two or three times a semester, and, even then, may know people who can loan them cars. Most of the interaction we have with the bus system is almost getting hit by one near the Sadler Center or watching one pass by on Jamestown Road.

But the transportation issue in Williamsburg is one that is incredibly important, even if it only affects a small group of students. Graduate students living in the Grad Complex near the Marshall-Wythe School of Law often rely on the bus system to get to and from classes. Ludwell residents at times have to choose between a long, and increasingly cold, walk down Jamestown Road, or the equally displeasing alternative of waiting for a rare and sometimes unreliable bus.

With recent break-ins and other incidents occurring near campus, the issue of student safety makes a reliable bus system a necessity. Services like Steer Clear and Campus Escort are useful, particularly since the College of William and Mary has outsourced student safety with its “push all the drinking off campus where we’re not liable” approach to alcohol policy.

Steer Clear is often heavily-used on weekend nights, and while the efforts of Will Sealy ’09 and others have made the system more efficient, it is still far from perfect. Waiting times for pick-up can be high, deterring people from using it. A shuttle or bus service from the delis to Ludwell might be a good first step in addressing this problem.

Following declining ridership over the last several years, WAT cut its schedule drastically, particularly after 5 p.m., at which point Ludwell residents can only travel to the Caf or New Town and the Gradplex is virtually cut off.

A group of concerned students, led by Rob Bradley ’10, a Resident Assistant in Ludwell, started a Facebook group and lobbied for the schedule to be more student-friendly and more accessible. Bradley, Student Assembly members and representatives from the Mason School of Business met last week with Wade Henley, the College’s Associate Director of Auxiliary Services, to discuss a potential solution.

There is no doubt that ridership is down. In fiscal year 2006, WAT recorded 116,000 riders for the Green line. In 2008, that number was down to 66,000. Williamsburg residents complained that buses were empty, raising environmental concerns. However, as Bradley and others have pointed out, this is not because students don’t want to use the bus system, but because nobody understands how it works or when it runs.

The schedule has always been confusing, and the College has done a horrible job of informing students of how they can get around using public transportation. Steven Nelson, an SA Class of 2010 senator and news editor for the campus newspaper The Virginia Informer, perhaps put it best when he wrote on the wall of the W&M Students for Better Transportation Facebook Group that, “I frankly have never, ever used the bus system because the schedules are so confusing. I’m sure there are a ton of people in the same boat.”

There are certainly a number of students in this same boat. The meeting that occurred last week produced a short-term fix. Beginning this weekend, the Gold line, which runs every 30 minutes, will make regular stops at the Sadler Center and hourly stops at New Town and the Law School. But the College must do more to reach people who simply do not understand the bus system — which is most people. There was a booth set up during freshmen orientation, but that’s pretty much it. There were no pamphlets or schedules in CSU boxes.

Henley, when asked about the obstacles the group faces in restructuring the bus schedules, said it is difficult to even raise general campus awareness about the transportation issues. Ultimately, students, administration representatives and city officials can spend all the time in the world negotiating where the buses should stop or how frequently they should run, but if nobody knows about them, their efforts are in vain.

Alexander Ely is a senior at the College.

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