Finding transportation as a first year is no small task. As students are not permitted to bring their cars during their first year, they must fully rely upon the University for getting around Grounds and Charlottesville. Thankfully, the University Transit Service offers a plethora of fare-free options for students, including its bus routes — Gold Line, Green Line, Orange Line and Silver Line — and shuttle systems, including UTS Night Pilot, UTS OnDemand and SafeRide. Despite this, transportation availability is not as wide-ranging as it appears.
Both UTS Night Pilot and UTS OnDemand are new additions. A recent email sent out by Parking and Transportation describes UTS Night Pilot as a new route “built to support transit-reliant first year students and the most frequent trip pattern,” while UTS OnDemand is intended to be utilized by students whose destinations are not found on the UTS Night Pilot transit route. Both services will operate from 10 p.m. to midnight, seven days per week. From there, Safe Ride operates until 7:30 a.m. However, students must attempt to untangle the complexities of the four different bus routes in order to ride on public transit during the day.
The intended goal of introducing UTS Night Pilot and UTS OnDemand is to provide students with the ability to travel to and from high-demand areas like Clemons and Alderman Libraries, first-year dormitories and 14th Street. It is accessible and can be found on the TransLoc app that both bus routes and SafeRide already use. Yet, it is strikingly similar to SafeRide, other than its operating hours.
While the goal of providing accessible transportation for students should remain, UTS should instead extend SafeRide’s capacity, locations and hours of operation. As it stands, any form of point-to-point shuttle transportation is only available starting at 10 p.m. UTS must provide students with a 24-hour point-to-point transportation option for their convenience, but most importantly, safety. While bus routes are available to students during the day, they are extremely difficult to navigate and are inconvenient for students on tight schedules.
UTS advertises UTS Night Pilot as “your new favorite study buddy” on its website, yet it is only operating for two hours every night. The National Survey of Student Engagement finds that about 45 percent of first-year students spend more than 15 hours per week preparing for classes, which roughly translates to 2.14 hours daily. Even if students did spend only two hours studying a day, it is bold to assume that they only study between the hours of 10 p.m. and midnight. By increasing the operating hours to a 24-hour schedule, students will have more flexibility and convenience in their study schedules.
The most serious reason to extend point-to-point transportation is student safety. This past fall, students received countless community alert emails about various crimes that occured on and around Grounds. A young woman was chased down the street by a man who emerged from a bush, shots were fired all across the Charlottesville community and multiple women were assaulted. Many of these incidents can be prevented by the University — it is simply a matter of how much they care to fix it. Creating a solution is the responsibility of the Transportation and Parking Committee, but also of University President Jim Ryan. By extending the operating hours of UTS Night Pilot and UTS OnDemand to operate from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., students will be ensured a safe means of transportation at all times.
This issue of transportation inadequacy is not a new one. Historically, students have expressed their concern with Safe Ride, noting how riddled it is with inefficiencies. If this is not a new issue, why hasn’t necessary action been taken? How many students must crowd the streets of Charlottesville, or decipher intricate bus routes, before something is done? Or worse, how many students must be the victim of a senseless crime before things change? If the well-being of the student body were truly being considered, the answer would be none. No student should have to compromise their schedule, health or safety for the crumbs of transportation access that have been thrown at them.
Grace Duregger is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.