In a decision made to cut costs, administrators elected to eliminate the shuttles between some campuses after receiving less state allocations. Still, some students are struggling to afford transportation.
It’s been one academic year since the shuttles that ran from Main Campus to TUCC and the School of Podiatric Medicine ceased operations. However, student dialogue about the free transportation remains.
The decision to cancel the shuttles did not become official until the day it was announced in a press release, Aug. 28, and was later detailed in the Temple Today e-newsletter on Aug. 31, the first day of the Fall 2009 semester.
Along with this shuttle, late-night and weekend services to Ambler Campus from Main Campus were also eliminated.
The university’s original Aug. 28 press release listed two main reasons for the shuttles’ cancellation: cutting costs and promoting sustainability.
“The actual allocated cost for the podiatric school shuttle was in excess of $300,000. We’re talking about close to half-a-million dollars in shuttles,” Mark Gottlieb, acting assistant director of Service Operations, said.
Gottlieb explained that the discussion to cancel the shuttles transpired when Temple received less in state allocations. When that occurred, the university’s facilities department had to evaluate which projects were considered redundant. The shuttle, which ran from Main Campus to the School of Podiatric Medicine while making stops at TUCC, was determined to be a duplicative form of transportation.
“The podiatric school shuttle became redundant considering there is a SEPTA service that exactly parallels the shuttle service, and it runs more frequently than the shuttle service, has more capacity than the shuttle service, because at times, that shuttle was very overcrowded, very packed,” Gottlieb said. “So it was decided that it was a better bang for your buck if you allocated those funds to academic purposes.
“The university isn’t in the business to subsidize public transportation. Temple University is in the business of providing a good education,” he added.
Although the university often referenced sustainability in its reasoning, Sandra McDade, director of the Office of Sustainability, said she played no role in canceling the shuttles.
“I was not consulted about this. It was a financial decision as I understand it,” McDade said. “The only way you would have a sustainability issue is if people were driving instead of taking the shuttle.”
Associate Director of TUCC and Continuing Education William Schreiber and other TUCC administrators were also not consulted on the shuttles’ cancellation.
“They just sprung it on us in mid- to late-August,” Schreiber said. “We weren’t involved in the decision. We were just told there would be no shuttle service to TUCC.”
When word reached TUCC about the shuttles’ cancellation, administrators there proposed an offer to the university and then-Director of Support Services Tom Dinardo, in which the shuttle could continue operating for a year, costing the university about $40,000. However, the deal was shot down.
Dinardo was not available for an interview, having retired Apr. 29.
When asked about the offer, Gottlieb said he was not familiar with it. Director of University Communications Eryn Jelesiewicz spoke to The Temple News at the behest of Anthony Wagner, vice president, chief financial officer and treasurer, and offered the following in an e-mail:
“As part of reducing expenditures by $40 million and holding tuition to the lowest increase in many years, 2.9 percent, we determined that the existing and affordable public transportation between Main Campus and Center City was more than adequate to handle our needs,” Jelesiewicz wrote. “We’re sure a lot of options were discussed and proposed. The decision that was made saved $246,000.”
When the shuttle was canceled, university officials said low ridership was among the deciding factors, but many have attested to the shuttles’ popularity.
“The podiatric shuttle ran for around seven years where there was never an issue. In fact, it continued to grow in popularity when I first got here. The average ridership per week was about 1,000,” Gottlieb said. “In the last year of the Center City shuttle, the numbers were over 3,000 a week.”
Gottlieb said the virtual capacity of the buses was about 5,000, and at the time, they were approaching 4,000 rides per week.
“Now not everybody rode at 11 at night, and not everyone rode at 7 in the morning, so the standard of deviation on that bus was a very narrow window. So you can imagine how crowded it was, and it just speaks to the fact that free is better, of course,” Gottlieb said. “Unfortunately, at some point it had to end, which was outside of our control because there was no issues with it up to that point.”
Students also took note of the shuttles’ popularity.
“The one that got off on 15th and Market was always full. Maybe on other days it wasn’t as full, but on that one, that always had a good amount of people,” Kate Moriarty, a senior women’s studies major and teaching assistant at TUCC, said.
Students feel the pinch
Many students expressed aggravation toward the surprise decision and noted that it left little time for them to muster out-of-pocket expenses for public transportation.
“A big selling point to come to Temple was the shuttles [to TUCC],” Nathan Vitale, a freshman film and media arts major, said. “Then I had to pay to go to class. I did the math, and it was a lot of money.”
Vitale said his TUCC class was a required course so rather than drop it, he endured the financial burden but swore to never take another class at the satellite campus again.
Similarly, Moriarty said she had to take out additional student loans to accommodate going to TUCC every day.
“I’m pretty bitter about it,” Moriarty said. “It’s pretty ridiculous. The shuttle was very helpful for a lot of us who can’t afford public transportation.”
If the $246,000 cost were to be divided among approximately 36,000 students, the approximate tuition increase would be about $6.83 per student.
“It hurts a lot of students and a lot of students think the university is doing a disservice to them because they take classes there,” Natalie Ramos-Castillo, student body president-elect, said. “When looking at the actual numbers that it costed to run them, it would have increased tuition and the students would be more outraged by that more than the buses.”
“TSG will be looking into [possible ways] to work with SEPTA to get bulk discounted tokens to help students,” she added.
Despite some students’ opposition to TUCC classes, the campus experienced a 2 percent increase in associated undergraduate enrollment between the Fall and Spring semesters this year. Associate enrollment includes students who take fewer than 50 percent of their classes at TUCC.
Schreiber said he was initially concerned the shuttle’s cancelation would negatively affect TUCC enrollment but said the increase in enrollment at Main Campus allowed enrollment numbers to remain solid.
“There’s a big space dilemma at Main Campus. TUCC gets used as an overflow,” Schreiber said.
“Whether I agreed with it [the cancellation] or not,” Schreiber added, “the students needed their courses.”
While many wonder what came to be of the actual shuttle buses, it was revealed that they were never owned by Temple but instead contracted by a third party.
Schreiber said the administrators who made the decision to cut the shuttles would likely be willing to revisit the issue. For such a discussion to occur, however, he would have to show that the shuttles’ cancellation had a negative effect on TUCC through either a decline in enrollment or evidence that the shuttles’ absence is a safety risk to students.
McDade conveyed that although she is not a decision-maker in this case, she doubted such a cut would be easily reversed.
“That’s not under my budget,” she said. “But I would think that once a budget decision like that is made … it would be hard to restore it.”
Gottlieb said he didn’t want to speculate on a possible return of the service but said the cancellation had to be executed because of the fiscal conditions the university faces.
“We’re going through hard times right now,” he said. “And hard decisions had to be made.”
Brian Dzenis and Angelo Fichera can be reached at email@example.com.