Matt Mayr, a UC Santa Cruz fourth year computer science major, waited patiently at the Laurel and Center bus stop. His thoughts were on his midterm and getting to campus early enough for some last-minute cramming. When he saw the bus round the corner, he reached for his student ID only to watch the bus to roll right past the stop, leaving him and other students stranded.

Mayr knew buses skip stops when they reach full capacity, but he didn’t expect it to happen at Laurel and Center, the first stop after the Santa Cruz Metro Center. Mayr realized he might not make it to his midterm on time.

“The third bus was full after it got to our bus stop,” Mayr said. “I actually got there 5 minutes late, and I ran out of time on my midterm. It was very stressful.”

Students board on a crammed bus at 5 p.m., during peak traffic hours on Tuesday. Every year, UC Santa Cruz continues to admit more students, which means more crowded buses and longer lines.
photo by Alonso Hernandez

Mayr, like many students, expected the bus service to be reliable enough for him to board at his stop, but that wasn’t the case. In recent years, overcrowding on campus and in Santa Cruz has made it difficult for residents to get where they need to go.

Commuting to campus is a reality for roughly half the students at UC Santa Cruz.

The further a student lives from the Metro Center, the less likely they are to get on a bus. Overcrowding makes catching a bus difficult at any stop, even ones closer to the station, said Larry Pageler, director of Transportation and Parking Services (TAPS) at UCSC.

“We hear about people who are being passed by at Laurel and Mission, when it reaches that stop. This year, we had a few reports […] of buses being full at Blackburn or leaving downtown full, which kind of blows my mind,” Pageler said.

Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit Department (SCMTD) is introducing three new, longer buses, which carry double the passengers, in January to alleviate commuting issues. Additionally, a new Route 22 was introduced this September, running from Long Marine Lab to UCSC via Western Drive, which historically lacks enough routes to cater to high demand.

Overcrowding on campus not only affects transportation to and from campus, some students have opted to live in other cities like Salinas, San Jose and Watsonville because off-campus housing in Santa Cruz is unaffordable. The effects of overcrowding may not always be glaring because its problems extend to places we cannot always see.
photo by Alonso Hernandez

“There are currently no other active plans for implementing new service, although [Pageler] often asks [SCMTD} about the potential for additional services if UCSC could afford to procure them from us,” said Barrow Emerson, manager of planning and development at SCMTD, in an email.

Students who travel from other cities are often forced to drive due to the unreliability of public transportation.

Second-year student Daniel Kim, who lives in the Almaden Valley neighborhood in San Jose, is one of these students. He’s lived in San Jose since he lost his housing guarantee at UCSC and made the choice to commute from home to save money. For Kim, commuting to campus means driving over Highway 17 in both the morning and evening.

“It doesn’t seem like it wears you out fast, because, you know, it’s only driving, but it really has a strain on your body,” Kim said. “It makes you really tired, especially when you finish a class at 6 or 7 [p.m.], and you have to drive back home, but you’re mentally exhausted by then.”

With the university admitting hundreds more students every year, students are increasingly unable to rely on a public transportation system that is struggling to keep up with student demand. Kim and Matt Mayr, like all students commuting to campus, experience the effects of overcrowding, but until circumstances change, they do their best to adapt.

“Put in effort early on to make sure you understand the bus system so that you don’t get screwed by it,” Mayr said. “That involves waking up and getting out the door earlier than we should, but that’s the way it is.”