6:48pm…6:49pm…6:50pm. Students wait for the familiar whine of the Upper Campus bus climbing up the hill, but are instead met with silence.
On May 1, Transportation and Parking Services (TAPS) announced that, effective May 8, they would be significantly reducing their services. The Bike Shuttle would be suspended, the Silicon Valley Connector would be reduced from three daily trips to two, and Upper Campus bus routes would be greatly reduced for the remainder of the spring quarter.
“Not only are buses not on time, but we also have to wait for several [buses] to pass in order to be lucky enough to get on as a result of the overcrowding,” said fourth-year Luis Guerrero.
TAPS attributed the reduction to the abrupt loss of seven Campus Transit drivers.
While Dan Henderson, Executive Director of TAPS, didn’t share the specifics of each individual’s exit, he explained that several losses came from unexpected “retirements” and “leaves of absence.” Currently, TAPS employs 25 shuttle drivers, a reduction from 30 in winter quarter. It is important to note, however, that these numbers do not represent the Full Time Equivalent, but rather the overall headcount for drivers.
A full-time equivalent (FTE) is a unit of measurement used to figure out the number of full-time hours worked by all employees in a business.
According to Henderson, resolving staffing shortages is not as simple as it may seem.
Acquiring new drivers is particularly difficult due to the limited availability of people who hold commercial driving licenses, a necessary qualification for driving Loop buses on campus.
As a result, TAPS is currently looking into several options to temporarily relieve the shortage of drivers. One potential resolution listed in a TAPS announcement was “recalls-to- service of UC Santa Cruz retirees.”
Henderson explained that TAPS is currently contacting individuals who drove buses on campus and for the Santa Cruz Metro to offer temporary positions until permanent drivers are found. In addition, they are looking to expand their existing driver training program, potentially by hiring a permanent trainer.
Henderson reported that three drivers are currently in training, with one trainee projected to join May 25.
Even with improvements on the horizon, many students worry the changes in transit service will make a campus that’s already difficult to navigate even more inaccessible.
“It definitely affects accessibility on campus for all students, but especially those with disabilities who may not be simply able to walk around to get from class to class,” said second-year Samantha Kumbroch.
Kumbroch, a student with severe asthma, expressed fear that reduced Loop buses will have more severe effects on students with disabilities. Students who rely on Loop buses to get home from nighttime classes are also worried about safety implications.
“I rely on the Night Core buses to get me from class back to my dorm,” said second-year Lea Toledo. “Sometimes I’ll be out late doing work at the library and it’s scary to walk home alone after it gets dark.”
For Night Core services, two buses remain running on the Night Upper Campus route every day of the week. With the new reductions, weekend night service went from three buses to two.
Until the situation is resolved, TAPS wants to remind students of the existing resources that may help students navigate campus.
Safe Ride, as well as Disability Van Services (DVS), remain fully functional and available for service throughout campus. Though these services are convenient, they come with their limitations and restrictions.
Safe Ride is a service offered by TAPS that gives students rides around campus either late at night, or in situations where a student may not feel safe.
For Disability Van Services (DVS), rides must be scheduled in advance on weekends and for late night rides. Safe Ride has a limit of five passengers per ride, and the program does not operate off campus.
TAPS could not provide an exact date to expect a return to its former bus scheduling, but Dan Henderson expects that the shortage will not be resolved before the end of the quarter. “I obviously can’t make promises, we didn’t see [this] coming,” said Henderson. “We’ll have to get through the spring quarter with the resources we currently have unfortunately.”
By next fall, TAPS hopes to be back to full capacity, ideally retaining a minimum of 32 drivers. Until then, the reduced capacity is still directly impacting students.
The UCSC campus has always garnered praise for its symbiotic relationship with nature. But cascading hills, lush valleys, and winding roads span great distances — distances that few students are able to traverse regularly without reliable transit.
“It has always been evident that this campus is very walking-forward,” Kumbroch said. “But many people don’t think about those that simply are not capable.”