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Late night shuttle changes service to suit Western students

Western’s transportation services are in the process of creating a better Late Night Shuttle system for students

WWU Late Night Shuttle at the Viking Union WTA stop. The late night shuttle is being revamped to better meet the needs of Western students. // Courtesy of Jillian Trinkaus and Shelby Zimmerman

By Adriannah Roman

With Western Washington University’s Student Late Night Shuttle out of service until in-person learning resumes, transportation staff are considering revamping how the service operates.

The Late-Night Shuttle, which helps Western students get around Bellingham after Whatcom Transportation Authority buses stop running, has been paused since the pandemic began. 

Shelby Zimmerman, Western's transportation service manager, said during the shutdown, the transportation services team is planning to better meet student needs. Increased demand of third party drivers, like Uber and Lyft, has decreased student use of the Late Night Shuttle, Zimmerman said.

“From 2011-2014, we had ridership that was from 40,000-45,000 students,” said Jillian Trinkaus, Western commute options and transportation manager. “From the 2016-2017 school year, the ridership dropped to 18,000 students.”

Lyft and Uber became present in Bellingham in 2015, Trinkaus said. 

“More than half of the ridership was lost within one year when Uber and Lyft started,” Trinkaus said. 

Casey Gifford, senior transportation manager for King County Metro services, said the public transportation metro in King County is also facing direct impacts from third party services.

To combat these challenges, Gifford said the King County Metro System has a pilot with the transportation company Via, which connects riders to and from stations. 

“The goal is to make it easier for people to access our high capacity transit systems,” Gifford said.

As Western’s transportation system is similarly being affected by modern technology rideshare businesses, Zimmerman brought up three proposed solutions that correlate with King County’s Metro System. 

"The first option is to continue the fixed route system; the second model would be to go to an on-demand service that reflects the operations of Uber and Lyft. The third option is to create a hybrid approach of those two options," Zimmerman said. 

To adapt a system similar to Uber and Lyft, western transportation staff will create an application that allows students to request rides to and from their location, Zimmerman said 

Trinkaus said final decisions will occur when the shuttle is up and running again — once Western has accommodated most of its campus presence to be in person.

For now, Trinkaus said no decisions have been made. The transportation staff is researching other possibilities that accommodate the needs of students and would like to have new services ready by fall 2021, Trinkaus said.

"Students prefer that on-demand, door-to-door service and are willing to pay for it instead of taking the shuttle," Trinkaus said. "To me, it's unfortunate because students have already paid for the shuttle in the alternative transportation fee."

As part of tuition, Western students are paying for the alternative transportation fee indirectly. 

Lori Freeman, a fifth-year student majoring in psychology, said the Late Night Shuttle system benefited her because she used it on weekends to commute to and from her dorm on The Ridge. 

"Overall, I think there are some things that could improve the Late Night Shuttle," Freeman said. "But I do think having it readily available for students is both effective and a safe way to get around town."   

As there are no set changes to the Western Late Night Shuttle system yet, Trinkaus invited students to share any input they have on changing the shuttle system. Comments and suggestions will be accepted at through Feb. 28.


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