I sit down in my afternoon class as the professor foregoes his usual icebreaker joke and dives straight into PowerPoint lecturing. A student rushes in from the back; out of breath, he sits down and announces, “My bus was 15 minutes late.”
Slug commuters are struggling. With the Santa Cruz Metro (SCM) down by 21 drivers, a discontinued route, and an elevation gain of 900 ft, commuting to and from campus is an uphill battle.
There is a driver shortage across Santa Cruz County. Usually running at 150 drivers, 14 percent of SCM buses are in need of operators. Even Watsonville’s Pajaro Valley School District is facing a 23 percent gap in bus drivers to routes.
As an attempt to fill in the hiring gaps, SCM is offering a $4,000 hiring bonus along with $19-30 hourly wage at gradual pay increases to attract drivers.
These gaps have caused SCM to reduce the frequency of certain routes like the 17 and curtail Route 16 into a modified Route 18, which no longer services Natural Bridges or Coastal Science Campus.
Riders wait anywhere between 15 minutes to an hour to take a standard bus route, and at peak hours there is no guarantee the bus will have enough space to let them board. This keeps students from getting to class on time, and lengthens the trip home.
SCM introduced articulated buses — those accordion-like vehicles with a maximum capacity of 110 riders — in January 2018 to help curb the occurrence of passbys.
Yet, according to a local survey published in June 2018, the non-articulated buses averaged a higher ridership, likely due to scheduling that did not align with class times.
Surveying the punctuality of Route 15 and 16 buses, this study found that 3 out of 4 buses were reported to be at least 6 minutes late at any given stop on campus.
Not every student has the time, resources, academic credits, a car and parking pass, or physical ability to avoid this issue. This leaves students who are already disadvantaged by the inaccessibility of campus waiting at the bus stop and late for class.
This study suggested SCM research their route efficacy, adjust routes for peak ridership hours, and reduce on/off boarding time. Researchers also recommend TAPS publish a PSA asking on-campus travelers to use the loop buses only.
Students: Ride the bus you NEED. Don’t take a metro when you can take a loop bus.
So, bus drivers, thank you.