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Student late night shuttle GPS app release date announced

Zoe Deal

A GPS app for Western’s late night shuttle service is in the works, Kay McMurren, Student Transportation Program support supervisor, said. It is set to be released Jan. 7.

In partnership with Ride Systems, a transportation technology company, Western plans to install the company’s GPS units on their two shuttles. The app provides an online map showing the shuttle’s movement, location and schedule. This will allow students to watch the path of the shuttle and see accurate time of arrival information.

The late night shuttle currently operates two routes. Route A runs clockwise from the Viking Union towards Buchanan Towers and serves Happy Valley as far as 21st Street and Donovan Street; Route B moves counterclockwise along the same route, but does not go through Happy Valley.

The $26.25 quarterly student transportation fee will not be increased, McMurren said. The addition requires a few thousand dollars in start-up costs, but will only cost the school $500 per month.

Late night student shuttle will be tracked with new app. // Photo by Katie Webber

McMurren said the change comes to Western at the right time. Recent voyeurs and break-ins have increased fear in students living both on and off-campus.

“It definitely adds a safety piece for students to be able to see where that bus is and when it’s going to arrive at their stop. It takes the guess work out of it,” McMurren said. “It also provides immediate notice if the shuttle service has to be canceled because of road conditions."

Though GPS apps became mainstream almost a decade ago, McMurren said that the transportation program has spent many years waiting for the right moment and  doing extensive research. Western’s contract with Whatcom Transportation Authority expired this year, leaving room to step back and take a look at the numbers.

After receiving the go-ahead from the Alternative Transportation Fee Committee about a week ago, McMurren said she contacted Ride Systems to get started.

“It seemed like a worthwhile venture to provide students with something they’re starting to expect now,” she said.

Brad Benne, the Bellair Charters driver supervisor, occasionally takes a turn behind the late night shuttle wheel.

Late on Sunday Nov. 5, Benne filled in on the B route, bringing around 20 students home.

“Anytime you can improve customer care utilizing electronic media that everybody’s using, you always win,” Benne said.

McMurren is hoping the app will increase student shuttle use.

“We have seen a slight drop in ridership over the last few years,” McMurren said. “I think that we are getting some competition from Uber, and maybe, over time, students perception of service and what they want changes.”

Though the route has received few changes in the shuttle service’s 10 years of operation, many riders come across the bus at random. Because route schedules aren’t posted at stops, students who do not regularly use the shuttle don't rely on its services.

Junior Ashley Lockett is one student who regularly uses the shuttle to get home from campus. “A lot of people also don’t know about the shuttle,” she said. “Maybe [having the app] would increase exposure.”

The purpose of the app is to make the shuttle more accessible for students. McMurren hopes the app will help students feel more comfortable and safe using the shuttle.

“If [students] know where the bus is at all times, there’ll be more people wanting to ride it,” Benne said, “Right now that’s our bad thing.”

Looking forward, McMurren said the university will continue to assess student wants and needs to figure out how best to serve the student body.

“For now, I think we can serve them better by adding this little piece to what we have,” McMurren said.

Riders must have a valid student ID to use the shuttle, which is run separately from WTA.

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