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Saturday, May 8, 2021

Get ahead of the bus system this winter

What you need to know about getting to and from school this quarter

By Dawson Eifert

As dangerous weather approaches, understanding the details of an alternative form of transportation could be the difference between getting to class or being stuck at home.

For students disinterested in paying for a parking pass, and with the worsening weather dissuading many from walking to and from campus, it’s not uncommon for the buses serviced by the Whatcom Transportation Authority to experience an influx of new riders during winter quarter.

Despite the fact that the buses have serviced the campus for years, many students find the system to be imperfect and flawed. Fourth-year Western student, Chelanne Evans, has her own complaints.

“I have to take two buses and leave an hour before my classes to get to school on time,” Evans said. “I would like more buses.”

Kay McMurren, Western’s Student Transportation program support supervisor, spoke highly of the organization.

“We have a good relationship with WTA, and Western does not request or dictate routes,” McMurren said. “Students do make up a large percentage of their ridership, but we’re not the center of their universe.”

According to McMurren, students have been paying a $27.50 alternative transportation fee in their tuition since 2008, which essentially turns their Western student ID card into a WTA bus pass. As a result, WTA provides buses in and out of campus every 15 minutes throughout an average school day.

When it comes to objections or suggestions, McMurren said students should reach out to WTA on their own.

Maureen McCarthy, community relations and marketing manager at WTA, assured that the organization is listening to these kinds of complaints.

“The best way to reach us is our community service forum,” McCarthy said. “We take suggestions into consideration and tally them. That way we can see what becomes a serious issue and address it.”

This last year, WTA added an additional bus along a route popular among students during some of the busier hours of the day, typically before noon. According to McCarthy, several riders complained that there were not enough buses for the number of students wanting to get to campus at the same time.

WTA does not have the resources to provide additional services during harsh weather conditions, making a solution complicated to find for students who rely on the bus as their only method of transportation under circumstances, like an unexpected snowfall.

“Ridership numbers do not account for irregular weather activity,” McCarthy said. “There’s a possibility that in certain situations, we just don’t have the resources to provide service for every student.”

McCarthy instructed students who rely on the services offered by WTA to plan ahead in these kinds of situations.

“The solution from our standpoint is for students to make way to campus a little earlier,” she said.

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