The University of New Mexico shuttle system has a new combo route, drawing the ire of many students and staff.
Since the end of August, the University combined the South Lot and Lobo Village routes every Monday through Thursday after 3:30 p.m.
Barbara Morck, the director of Parking and Transportation Services (PATS), said the combo route was implemented due to a shortage of drivers.
“In order to have as optimal of service to South Campus as possible, the best way to do that rather than pulling buses off of other areas, was to put it all together,” she said.
Morck said the University has 29 drivers and three supervisors operating across North and South Campus, including drivers shuttling students from Lobo Rainforest in Downtown Albuquerque.
Morck said there are currently two drivers in the “hiring queue,” and she sees an end for the South Lot combo route in sight. She said she also wants to seek a salary increase for drivers. Currently, UNM shuttle drivers make an average of around $28,300 a year. Morck also floated the idea of employing students as drivers.
“That’s something where you have policies, procedures and training protocols, so it’s not something that can just happen overnight,” Morck said in reference to hiring students.
Every bus can make a difference. Morck said buses that are 40-feet long can hold at least 70 passengers.
On Sept. 18 UNM PATS recorded more than 4,000 shuttle riders on the Lobo Village and South Lot route, according to driver logs from PATS.
The Daily Lobo interviewed two UNM shuttle drivers who agreed to speak under the condition of anonymity for various reasons.
“It’s been tough — it’s different, confusing. We’re seeing confusion from students and drivers,” one bus driver said.
The anonymous driver said all hands are on deck due to the driver shortage.
“Since there is not a lot of us, the drivers in the middle shift have to get some overtime and stay later to help us out or else it’s really hard for us to take a break,” the same driver said.
While not all students that park at South Lot or live at Lobo Village take a shuttle to and from campus, Lobo Village has a capacity of more than 850 students and South Lot can have an capacity upwards of 1,800 students.
These numbers can put strain on combo route drivers and lead to crowded busses and longer wait times.
“The reason things have been so hectic these first four weeks is because we’re really short on drivers. With UNM it takes forever to hire somebody — it’s been stressful on the drivers,” another anonymous driver said.
One driver said 36 shuttles would be ideal for the amount of students transported.
“More drivers is always better because it allows us to provide more reliable and consistent service,” a driver said.
As the University’s property expands, so does the range of the drivers.
“We’ve got a route added because we’re running service to the Rainforest down on Broadway and Central — so that took a driver,” an anonymous driver said, calling this new route a “necessary evil.”
Combo routes are not a new shuttle tool for the University. According to the UNM PATS website, the night bus “combines the South Lot, Lobo Village/SSSC, G/Q and Redondo routes into one timed route, with shuttles every 10 minutes at major stops.”
While this new system is intended to facilitate the shuttling process, it has been greeted with mixed reviews.
Some riders took to Twitter to voice their complaints about the new route.
One user wrote: “I’ve been waiting 45 minutes in the sun to catch a shuttle to South Lot. This is ridiculous. @UNMPATS.”
However, for Lyric Nelson, a freshman whose major is undecided, the combo route is not an issue for her.
“It just gets really packed, which I don’t think is a problem,” Nelson said.
Anthony Jackson is a freelance reporter with the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @TonyAnjackson.