The first weeks of the semester have been burdensome for many Macdonald campus students, as demand for the inter-campus shuttle that transports students between the downtown and Macdonald campuses has been largely exceeding capacity at certain hours. Every day, full shuttle buses leave behind many students attempting to commute to Macdonald in the morning and downtown in the evening.
“We’re now getting 25 to 30 students left behind on the 7:30 [a.m.] bus, for example,” U3 Environmental Science student Kristen Perry told The Daily. “It’s really unacceptable. We need to get to classes, and we can’t get to our labs or course lectures if the buses are full all the time, and there’s just not enough buses, or they’re not scheduled properly to get us where we need to go.”
The 48-seat shuttles, which are scheduled to run at 45-minute intervals from 7:00 a.m. to 6:15 p.m., take about 40 minutes to complete a trip that takes upwards of an hour and a half by public transit. Students sometimes line up at the bus stop over half an hour before their scheduled shuttle in order to secure one of the limited seats, further lengthening their commutes.
The availability of the shuttle service has been an ongoing concern for many of the 1,900 students who take classes at the Macdonald campus, with Daily coverage of the issue going back to 2008. Students’ concerns have been brought to the administration numerous times, but no substantial improvements have been made in response to these complaints.
“It’s definitely still not working the way we have it right now,” said Perry.
In fact, students have reported a worsening situation this year, with record numbers of students unable to get to class on time. “I can’t remember a time when this many students were consistently missing class this often,” said U2 Global Food Security student Marius Karolinski in an interview with The Daily. “It is more of a problem now than it was in the past.”
Perry, who is now in her fourth year at McGill, echoed this sentiment. “In the previous years it’s been, you know – ten, fifteen people maybe get left behind on a fairly regular basis, but this semester in particular it’s been particularly bad […] on the buses I take at least,” said Perry. “It’s definitely gotten worse.”
“One shuttle is over-full, then throughout the day […] there’s overflow, it goes into the next shuttle, into the next shuttle – people just repetitively miss their classes,” added Perry.
Organizing through social media
On September 8, Perry expressed her frustration in what she called “a little Twitter rant,” garnering attention from other students, as well as from Macdonald Campus Associate Dean Chris Buddle, who offered his help.
Perry’s tweets sparked organizing efforts in the Macdonald community. On September 11, Perry and U2 Nutrition student Maddy Hackstetter created a Facebook group titled “Intercampus Shuttle Incidents,” where students have been actively posting reports of early departures and overflowing shuttles, complete with time of departure, numbers of students left behind, and photos and video recordings.
“The reason [the group] is effective is that it’s a lot more of an accessible forum for students than having to email the shuttle office – they do have an email, which I’ve emailed before, but it doesn’t seem to do much,” Perry told The Daily. “Now I think we’re collecting a lot of complaints from students. […] It wasn’t that volume before, and I think that’s going to be helpful in really showing the extent of the problem.”
Hackstetter and Perry also launched a survey to collect data on students’ place of residence and time and location of classes, in order to be better equipped in discussions with the administration. “We also got people to fill out the shuttles they normally would take to get to class and back home by time, so we have that data and that’s going to be really helpful when we’re trying to rearrange the schedule or find a solution,” said Perry.
The Macdonald Campus Students’ Society (MCSS) executive has also been working on the issue.
“MCSS is currently talking to [all the] stakeholders at McGill in relation to the shuttle,” MCSS President Mathieu Rouleau told The Daily in an email. “We met with the Principal [Suzanne Fortier] and the Deputy Provost [(Student Life and Learning) Ollivier Dyens] this past Tuesday.”
Representatives from MCSS will join Hackstetter and Perry this week to meet with Buddle and Gary O’Connell, Director of Academic and Administrative Services at the Faculty of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences, to discuss possible solutions to the problem.
“We are planning on looking at the current issues and creating an action plan,” said Rouleau.
While the University would incur significant costs if it added buses to the shuttle service, students have brought forward solutions that do not require additional resources. Perry suggested that a reallocation of existing buses to suit demand could solve the problem.
“If we were to have three shuttles leave from downtown in the morning, and then in the evening have the opposite – three shuttles coming from Mac – instead of having an equal two-and-two split, I think that would match the volume in demand,” said Perry.
According to a post on the Facebook group by MCSS VP Academic Stéfanie Thibert, the administration is considering imposing a fee to students who take the shuttle in order to increase the frequency of service.
For Perry, however, charging students is not an acceptable solution. “We shouldn’t have to pay another fee on top of what we already pay, I think, just to be able to get to our classes,” she said.
In a joint email to The Daily, Buddle and O’Connell agreed that the problem was a logistical one, but expressed doubts that the reallocation of resources could be a solution, instead putting the onus on students to use alternate means of transportation.
“[W]e have the proper resources overall, but […] given the logistical constraints, we are not always able to meet the early morning or late afternoon demand,” they wrote. “[G]iven additional complexities of rush-hour traffic and the distance between the campuses, there are limits to how many departures are possible. […] We […] may be close to the limits of what can be done to meet the demand at peak times, based on the number of buses and drivers we have.”
“[I]t may be necessary to promote other transportation options for students who are true ‘commuters,’” Buddle and O’Connell added.
Nonetheless, Perry was optimistic about the upcoming meeting with Buddle and O’Connell.
“We’ll have a lot more data collected by then, and hopefully be able to go in with some strong suggestions for positive change.”