It was midnight on Nov. 13. The AS Review photographer Matt Kenny and I were catching the night shuttle from Haggard Hall. Our mission: to see what our transportation fee is paying for.
We rode route B through downtown, the York neighborhood, the Lincoln Creek Park and Ride, up Bill McDonald Parkway, and back to Haggard Hall. Only four other people got on, which driver Larry Gnass said is typical of a Monday night.
The two students who got on near campus said they were taking the bus back from the library. One said she used to walk, but has been taking the night shuttle ever since school started. The other said she didn't go to campus late at night until she got her bus pass.
The few students that ride the shuttle on weeknights are usually traveling to and from the library, Gnass said.
Gnass has been a public transit bus driver in King and Snohomish County since 1991. He was hired by Airporter Shuttle in September of this year.
Gnass said he has heard the night shuttle referred to as the “drunk bus,” but added that many of the riders are sober.
The Sehome Village Haggen is a popular destination, sustainable transportation coordinator Carol Berry said.
“It's the classic all-ages venue,” Berry said. But according to Berry, not many riders use the shuttle to get downtown.
On Friday and Saturday nights, the shuttle sometimes fills up with students singing and using foul language, Gnass said. He tries to cut them some slack, but sometimes has to remind them to tone it down.
“I feel like a substitute teacher sometimes,” Gnass said.
Driving the night shuttle has been more pleasant than driving the late night routes in Seattle, he said.
“Students at their worst [here] are only half as bad as some of those people,” Gnass said.
There have not been any issues with overcrowding on the night shuttle, Berry said. However, there is some concern about too many students trying to take the bus to the Iron and Wine concert on Dec. 4 at the Mount Baker Theater.
“There is a maximum number of riders on WTA or the shuttle per hour,” Berry said. “If we have two buses, 800 people can't get on those buses all at once.” However, Berry said she does not foresee too big a problem.
Berry is also working with people in the York neighborhood who complain about the noise from the shuttle late at night. There are plans to change the night shuttle route slightly to avoid going down Potter Street.
“Optimal safety and best service for the greatest number of people is going to be a consideration,” Berry said.
In any bus system, replacing the vehicles is always a concern, Berry said. When the time comes to buy new shuttles, she said she hopes to find buses that decrease environmental impact while remaining within the student budget.
The night shuttles are well-maintained, Berry said, and it will be a while before they need to be replaced.
“The first practice in sustainability is to use what you have,” Berry said. “Don't throw it away until you're good and done with it.”
Some examples of environmentally friendly public transit that Berry has looked at include cable cars used in Pittsburgh and electric buses in Italy, she said.
“[We're asking] where do they get those buses, what are the costs, and how can we get them,” Berry said. Other concerns include whether or not mechanics can handle electric buses and how available parts are for fixing them.
Berry said she hopes the success of Western's transportation fee will help other universities find ways to solve their transportation issues. She added that student feedback for the shuttle has been positive.