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Increase the shuttle fee or wait for a public connector?

Over the past month, UFV has found itself in the middle of a transit tizzy – and that’s a good thing.



By Dessa Bayrock (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: October 2, 2013

The UFV shuttle is only one inter-community transit option.

The UFV shuttle is only one inter-community transit option.

Over the past month, UFV has found itself in the middle of a transit tizzy – and that’s a good thing.

The first week of the semester saw the debut of the Chilliwack-Abbotsford shuttle, and the end of September was marked with an announcement from the Fraser Valley Regional District that we should see a public Langley-Abbotsford-Chilliwack connector in the near future.

These are both excellent additions to the transit systems in the Fraser Valley, but now UFV students find themselves with a hard choice: SUS is asking to increase the shuttle fee at the end of the month from $6.75 to $17.75 a semester. Is it worth it? Or should we sit tight and count on the FVRD bus to appear by next fall?

Let me make myself clear: I love the shuttle bus. I live in Chilliwack and I’ve taken it three or four times a week since its inception. It’s relatively comfortable, it’s never been late, and on a couple of occasions it’s even been early. A few weeks ago The Cascade took an informal poll to see how other students felt about the shuttle; the result was overwhelmingly positive.

The shuttle is probably the most popular first-year on campus.

That being said, I’ve also never been on a shuttle that was filled to its 20-seat capacity, let alone on a shuttle that was so full it had to turn students away. I would estimate that the ridership varies between 10 and 16 bodies per trip.

From what I’ve seen, these figures are pretty constant throughout the day. I’ve taken the shuttle at 7:15 in the morning and I’ve taken the shuttle at 10:00 at night. I’ve taken it before breakfast and during lunch and in the late afternoon. I’m not the only one that uses it, loves it, or depends on it.

But would I agree with the recent SUS press release that says “demand has quickly overwhelmed the service with many shuttles at capacity and forced to turn away student riders”? No. I would say that the shuttle is happily operating within the parameters SUS staff had in mind when they put together the schedule.

So why ask for an $11.75 increase for a service that’s already working as it should?

The answer is simple: everyone who needs to use the shuttle is currently using it, but not necessarily everyone who wants to.

In a perfect world, any student who ever needs to travel from Chilliwack to Abbotsford campus will use the connector, whether or not they have a vehicle of their own. Students and staff alike could park in droves in park-and-ride lots, transferring to a shuttle service that offers a bus leaving every 10 minutes or so.

It’s an absolutely ideal vision, one that the current service might even grow into one day. Raising the fee is taking a step towards that future, and I commend SUS for pushing the shuttle to evolve past its humble beginnings.

But in all honesty, I think tripling the fee is the wrong move. Think about that for a second: SUS proposes tripling the fee. $6.75 is not a lot to ask from a student per semester, but $17.75 definitely crosses that boundary. A substantial number of students voted to pass the original referendum despite knowing full well that they would never use it; $6.75, after all, is not a lot to dig out of the couch cushions. I have a feeling that $17.75 is more likely to convince those students to vote no.

The thing is, SUS is already polling a tough crowd: after FVRD announced plans to put a public connector between  Langley, Abbotsford, and Chilliwack, the students who have no intentions of ever using the shuttle instantly became less likely to vote to renew the SUS service, let alone increase it. As they see it, the problem is solved: as intended, the campus shuttle has pushed FVRD to put a bus of their own in. The trial period has served its purpose, and the shuttle may now quietly retire.

There is logic to this line of thinking, as there is in SUS’s proposed increase. In both cases, I’m cautious about assuming too much. On one hand, I think it’s idealistic (to phrase it nicely) to assume that everyone commuting between Chilliwack and Abbotsford wants to use the shuttle. On the other hand, I’m extremely skeptical of FVRD’s optimism has in thinking it can get its connector running by next September.

There is rarely a middle ground in an issue, but here I think there is one: keep the SUS shuttle running, at the current fee and at the current service level, as long as students are willing to pay for it. That might mean until the public connector gets off the ground, and it might mean forever. Run a yearly referendum, if that’s what it takes. Get the student opinion every year.

Meanwhile, I can only see this October referendum as a win-win situation. If it fails, we still have a shuttle. If it passes, the student body is far more optimistic and generous than I currently give them credit for – and that’s a good thing.

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