Western students are still unhappy with how crowded buses to campus are, even after big changes were made to routes last year.
Right now, Whatcom Transportation Authority sends at least two buses every 15 minutes to more crowded areas like Billy Frank Jr. Street and Buchanan Towers.
According to Rick Nicholson, WTA’s director of service development, it’s fairly unusual for students to miss class because of bus overcrowdedness.
If you wait long enough, you’re sure to get a bus. For some students that wait might be more than 10 minutes, Nicholson said.
Eylen Kim, a senior who takes the bus from the intersection of Chestnut Street and Billy Frank Jr. Street, is one of many students who wait for a bus to take them to campus.
“The line for a bus stop stretches two and a half buses full. When you get in line, it’s pretty competitive to get to the front so you can get into the first bus,” Kim said.
Nicholson said this isn’t a new development.
“The buses pretty much have always been very crowded, so it’s not unusual, but it's always a concern,” he said.
Last quarter, Kim had to run up the hill to campus for her 8 a.m. final after three buses passed her.
WTA is putting out as many buses as they can, Nicholson said.
“Almost 80 percent of students want to get up to campus within a 10-minute window. It maxes us out. We have no more buses to put in service during that window,” he said.
Junior Lindsey Costlow, who lives next to the Lincoln Creek Park & Ride, says she has ridden buses so crowded that people had to stand right next to the driver's seat.
“It was certainly unsafe,” she said.
These buses were within the 10-minute window Nicholson believes is the most congested.
Since March 2017, WTA completely redesigned their Whatcom County routes. Some buses, like the 44 and 105, were consolidated into one route. More buses were sent to the Lincoln Creek Park & Ride and NXNW, while less routes went down towards Fairhaven and 32nd Street.
These changes have affected students living far away from campus in particular.
Students living on 32nd Street often find bus 11 over-crowded by students who live along the route.
“Those are situations where we really want to hear from people: when they need to get to destinations that aren’t on the Blue Line, but they’re getting left behind,” Nicholson said.
Nicholson said students who take the bus to the Viking Union or the Wade King Student Recreation Center are often filling up buses that aren’t on the Blue Line, like the 14 and 11. Those buses have different destinations that can only be reached by that particular bus.
“For people’s health, it’s better to walk short distances,”
Rick Nicholson, WTA’s director of service development, said.
Nicholson, who used to be a bus driver, has also noticed more students getting on the bus to go one or two stops.
“Taking the bus for really short trips is not something we used to see in the past, and we’re seeing more and more of it going on. This affects students who need to go longer distances,” he said.
Instead of taking the bus less than half a mile, Nicholson believes students who live at Buchanan Towers or in the Sehome neighborhood should walk to class.
“For people’s health, it’s better to walk short distances,” he said.
Kaylee Martig, a junior and member of the Associated Students’ Disability Advocacy Committee, believes encouraging students to walk rather than ride the bus short distances may make students with mobility impairments feel uncomfortable.
Martig said students who do not appear to have a disability might feel ashamed to take the bus short distances.
However, she noted if less people took the bus, students who need seats would get them.
“Students with invisible disabilities are often forced to stand on the bus because nondisabled students take the seats in front, not realizing there are people who need them,” she said.
Nicholson’s main message to students is their use of WTA buses is a privilege, and that WTA has tried to accommodate the increase in demand.
“I have heard students say that they shouldn't have to wait because they're paying for this service. That is misinformation. The transportation fee doesn’t pay for WTA, it pays for the bus pass,” he said.
Nicholson invites student feedback about their commute.
“When classes start up again in the fall, we’re going to have a public meeting up at Western,” he said. “These are the kinds of things that students need to talk about. The more feedback we can get, that’s all good.”