Bus Love Forum Uncovers Issues

The Office of Administrative Affairs hosted “Bus Love Uncovered,” a forum for transparency taglined: “What’s happening with the money?” on Wednesday, Jan. 15. Ryan Gripp, Associate Director to the Express, answered the question with a comprehensive overview of 2013 expenses. Among topics covered in the 45-minute conference were the distribution of funds, the structure of Anteater Express funding (in and of itself a mosaic of donors) and the future of the 20-year-old fleet. Administrative Affairs also revealed that Administration proposes to absorb the Bus Love account, moving the money from ASUCI jurisdiction to their own.

Last spring, Anteaters voted in favor of the Bus Love Initiative, a policy that would tack a fee on all undergraduate tuition for the sole purpose of stabilizing funding for the Anteater Express shuttles. It’s been one year since the fees have been implemented, and Express has $360,369 of Bus Love money in its ASUCI-manned accounts.

Over the past year, three projects, spearheaded by a student committee, have been launched and funded with the referendum cash. One of the three is, notably, the reopened Newport Beach Route.

“It’s one of our most popular routes, but no one uses it,”  Gripp said during the forum. The resurrected route cost $272,001 to run one bus down 15 stops 5 days a week. Gripp calculated that the bus needs $5.91 per mile to operate; $3 of those dollars go to Administration, $1.35 for fuel, and $1.55 for maintenance costs.

As to why renewing the Newport shuttle took priority, Gripp explained that ASUCI based decisions according to survey results. Gripp stated, “I wanna say a little north of 1,000 students responded.”

The overflow bus service, an invaluable resource to contend with nighttime passenger congestion, received $34,150. So far, the fleet comprises of one bus that relieves the green and American Campus Communities (ACC) lines, two of the more glutted routes.

When asked about possible bus procurement and replacing the fleet, Gripp responded, “I defer to the board.”

The Bus Love board, a varied collective of elected student executives, Anteater Express employees, and housing representatives, makes any and all financial decisions with the referendum money. But, in this stage of the referendum, which by 2018 is projected to accumulate $2 million for Anteater Express, replacing the fleet seems a less immediate concern. Currently, the board is working to at least determine what kind of buses any future committees might buy. However, $54,000 was used to establish Ring Road Rides, a joint effort of Bus Love and Disability Services to provide a complementary golf-cart chauffeur to shuttle those who need it anywhere around Ring Road.

A point of interest that arose during Gripp’s question and answer outro is Gripp’s inspired plan to propose that surveillance cameras be installed in all the fleet.

“These are a staple in the business. Everyone, all of the major transit agencies, have cameras on their drivers,” he explained. Before any palpable changes to policy become apparent, Gripp will have to present to and convince Legislative Council to agree with his proposal.

Talk of Anteater Express’ multi-armed funds resulted, which Gripp summed up as a “pay to play” funding model in which direct contracts bind funders on an individual basis to Anteater Express. For instance, the ACC housing community donates, contractually, over $1 million to Anteater Express to alleviate the costs of running the comprehensive Teal, Dark Blue and Orange lines. Bus Love, though integrated institutionally, cannot legally replace the money given to the university by these contractors. It is a patch on a quilt.

Much contention in regards to controlling the Bus Love account has arisen between ASUCI and Administration. Administration cites efficiency as a reason to absorb the account. They also cite the multiple deficits — especially in fuel, maintenance and infrastructure costs — that student planners have run into. In response, ASUCI has taken a firm stance to keep the money in their name. The Chief of Staff of Administrative Affairs explained that the Anteater Recreation Center, the Bren Events Center and the Student Center are all funded by student fees and come with a student-studded Advisory board, yet decisions are finalized by administration. Bus Love would be the first instance in which a largely student-run committee has complete control of a university account.