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Saturday, August 15, 2020

    Students: WTF, WTA?

    On a brisk Tuesday morning at the corner of Bill McDonald Parkway and Samish Way, a crowded bus stop spills into a nearby parking lot. The cluster of over 35 people gathered there can do nothing but watch as three full buses pass by them en route to Western’s campus.

    Some students elect to walk as the minutes pass, but junior Alex Rimbey waits, and soon the two buses needed to fit the students pull into the stop.

    “We’re maxed out in terms of our drivers and buses at key peak times. We’re trying our best to address that, but part of it, like rush hour, will come with students helping to flatten the demand at some of those times by leaving a little bit earlier.”

    Maureen McCarthy, community relations and marketing manger for WTA

    “You can’t get on the first bus ever. It’s ridiculous,” Rimbey said.

    Students interviewed said crowding has become noticeable around Western since the Whatcom Transit Authority made changes to its route schedule, which took effect March 19.

    Maureen McCarthy, community relations and marketing manager for WTA, said the changes were determined through WTA’s Strategic Plan, a two-year planning process taking community requests and identifying needs based on where population has grown over the last 10 years.

    “Patterns of when and where students ride change every quarter, and there [are] often these choke points where everyone happens to want to ride at the same time,” McCarthy said.

    “We’re maxed out in terms of our drivers and buses at key peak times. We’re trying our best to address that, but part of it, like rush hour, will come with students helping to flatten the demand at some of those times by leaving a little bit earlier.”

    McCarthy said the new routes increase WTA’s total hours in service by nine percent, and provide Sunday services for the first time to Lynden, Ferndale, Kendall, Gooseberry Point, Lummi Nation and Sudden Valley.

    The changes to routes which service Western had a different goal than the overall changes. McCarthy said they aim to consolidate the names and numbers of lines running to Western and provide year-round access to places where students now live in larger numbers, like NXNW, a student apartment complex located off Lincoln Street.

    The choke point this quarter, McCarthy says, is around 9:40 a.m., when most students catch buses to 10 a.m. classes. She said an extra bus has been added, which is currently being dispatched on a moment-to-moment basis to help deal with overloads.

    The hope, McCarthy said, is that overcrowded stops will start to thin out as students adjust their schedules to the routes and the weather warms up, causing more students to walk to campus.

    “I really think it will improve with the weather,” McCarthy said. “We carry a ton of students less than a mile. In fact, some of the biggest overloads were at Campus Services.”

    Students board the bus at 21st and Donovan. // Photo by Jonathan Pendleton

    Junior Annalise Rubida lives in Fairhaven and appreciates the new 14S line, which she says makes it more convenient to get to early classes. Previously there had been a large gap between when buses came in the morning.

    “Now you don’t have to choose between getting there far too early or slightly late,” Rubida said.

    However, Rubida and Rimbey both noted they have extra difficulty getting home in a timely manner since the buses are less frequent and the stops are so saturated with students.

    To help combat anticipated problems, McCarthy said WTA has sent out several employees to observe how stops are working in real time, and will continue to monitor in the future.

    Junior Alyssa Paris said she appreciates the effort being made by WTA, but can’t help missing the old bus routes.

    “It was really helpful that they had people at the stops, and it’s nice to have a Fairhaven line now, but in the mornings it’s been difficult,” Paris said. “It’s been making me late to class.”

    Paris has class at 10 a.m., so she catches the bus right at the peak of the rush hour McCarthy described, when the most students are at the stops closest to campus.

    Students crowd onto a bus headed toward Western at the bottom of Sehome Hill. // Photo by Caleb Huisingh

    More informati on on the new routes can be found in a previous Front article about the changes, as well as on WTA’s website.



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