Bus Route in Jeopardy, Saved by TGIF

Many students might look forward to whatever forms of off-campus entertainment are available around Irvine. Fashion Island and South Coast Plaza provide high-class shopping, while The District and the Irvine Spectrum provide food, movies and entertainment. During the weekdays, there are numerous OCTA bus routes that pass by these centers, some lying only a single bus transfer away from the main campus OCTA route. But due to budget cuts, OCTA has cut night and weekend service to many routes, leaving many riders stranded at UC Irvine.

The Anteater Express has been adding a variety of routes servicing areas in high demand, like off-campus housing and entertainment venues. One such route, the Irvine Train Station and Spectrum route, has been extremely popular over its two-quarter pilot course, and has made thousands of trips along the route, allowing students access to both train and shopping services well after OCTA routes have stopped service. When the funding period ended, it appeared that the new route would be scrapped. However, The Green Initiative Fund stepped in to cover the costs of the bus route for the Spring 2011 quarter, while the shuttle service moves to organize new funding for the future, effectively saving the program from being scrapped altogether.

The importance of having the campus shuttle system cannot be underestimated. Since not all students use or own a car, having a robust public transportation system is one of the best ways to get around the city. Furthermore, as gas prices continue to skyrocket, even students with cars might be looking at the rising gas prices and turning to buses and bicycles for their transportation needs. While the OCTA provides access to many areas around the campus, the Anteater Express is the only transportation that continues to run nights and weekends to popular student destinations. The OCTA U-pass data of UCI student transportation patterns revealed that many of the routes used are not directly connected to campus, meaning that several transfers are required to reach a destination. Combined with odd hours of pickups and delays in transfer, students can easily be dissuaded from using the OCTA at all.

According to a report from the Transportation Advocates UCI, the ITS and Spectrum route had a total of almost 8,000 trips in fall 2010. The route was so popular that another bus was added to the route to make up for the rush of students on the line. A TAUCI survey of riders revealed that almost 90 percent of the surveyed students would not have visited the Spectrum without the bus route, and 40 percent spent an average of $31 while on the trip. Despite the popularity of the service, budget concerns raised questions as to the long term future of the route. TAUCI and Shuttle Services attempted to secure a percentage of funding from the Irvine Company but were unsuccessful.

David Weinreich, President of TAUCI, stated in an email that the reason that the Irvine Company backed out is likely a financial one.

“Transportation services of all kinds often cost more than people expect, when you include vehicle maintenance costs and labor,” Weinreich said. “But, we were never asking them to pay the whole cost of the service.  We just wanted to see all parties who benefit from it — including students and the Irvine Company — pay their fair share.”

Ryan Gripp, General Manager of the Anteater Express, noted that the shuttle has been operating on the fair-share model for some time.  According to Gripp, there are already several departments, including Parking and Transportation and the nearby on-campus housing communities that already pay a share into the cost of the program. Additional routes to service in-demand areas will be impossible without funding from another source, like the Irvine Company or from the students themselves through a referendum fee.

The planned expansions include a route that runs to John Wayne Airport, Diamond Jamboree and The District, providing a single line that services a wide variety of campus entertainment venues, while also allowing students living in housing communities in those areas access to campus shuttles that run nights and weekends. The bus routes not only reduce pollution from automotive traffic by removing potential cars from the road, but also allow students to travel without worrying about rising gas prices or parking.

While TGIF’s funding has saved the Irvine Train Station and Spectrum route for the quarter, future expansions will be impossible without new sources of income. Students may see new fees as unnecessary, but without involvement by the student body, the future of the shuttle service may be limited to direct campus access, providing no relief to students looking to travel without the means to do so.