First Transit, a private company that specializes in college transportation, faced difficulties when it initially took on the task to provide the University with a reliable bus system. Facing criticism, First Transit, in conjunction with UR Parking and Transportation, tackled the concerns raised by the UR community.

“When we discovered that we were having some problems, we made it a point to talk with our First Transit partners,” Associate Vice President of University Facilities and Services Richard Pifer said. “We emphasized the importance we put on reliability and adherence to schedule.”

First Transit Assistant General Manager Mario Workman echoed Pifer’s sentiments, citing that the company worked to identify the scheduling inconsistencies as well as other service shortcomings to see that such issues were adequately addressed.

“We followed the same bus schedules provided by the University and found these inconsistencies were due, in part, to the actual schedule,” Workman said.

Using the Red Line schedule as an example, Workman noted that the same bus due to arrive at the back of Rush Rhees Library at 10:03 p.m. was also expected to depart for the next loop at 9:46 p.m.

“It was literally impossible to make these times using one bus, so we put an extra one on the route,” Workman said.

First Transit also found that it was beneficial to have a spare bus available on the River Campus, rather than at their headquarters on West Avenue, in the event that students were stranded and would need to be picked up immediately.

Other steps have been taken to ensure that First Transit can provide dependable transportation service. Workman, along with University Director of Parking Glen Sicard monitored drivers on various evening routes. As a result of these case studies, two drivers were replaced.

“One of the drivers raced through the route, often arriving early and was thus missing a lot of students who were waiting to be picked up,” Workman said.

Pifer also commented that his department coordinated random spot checks.

“We put our staff on vehicles to double check the drivers. We will continue to do spot checks – it’s what we do to make sure the vendor holds up their end of the bargain,” Pifer said.

Furthermore, there was also some confusion among the drivers regarding some of the routes. Workman alluded to the Blue Line as an example, explaining that due to the construction by Strong Memorial Hospital, drivers were not stopping at the designated areas where students and faculty waited.

In addition to assessing drivers and the current schedule, First Transit has invested in more buses. At the beginning of the semester, there were two 20-passenger buses and nine 26-passenger buses. Joining the ranks are five new 33-seaters with room for 15 to 17 standing passengers, complete with hand grips and a back door.

“With more buses, we will be able to ease crowding issues, especially for students riding from deKiewiet and Valentine. Also, the bigger buses have hand holds for those standing,” Pifer said.

Workman pointed out that even with additional buses, there will still be a reserve bus on site for emergencies to ensure that the system remains reliable.

First Transit has taken further initiative to remedy other problems brought to its attention by members of the UR community. Bike racks should be arriving next week, according to Workman, although, because of the design of the buses, the bike racks may need to be modified before they can be installed. Furthermore, this winter, First Transit will implement a driver alert system so students do not have tell the driver personally when they need to be dropped off.

Another new development includes adding a Global Positioning System to all of the buses. The drivers will not be the only ones to benefit from a GPS. Supervisors will be able to locate buses and will thus be able to better respond to queries if a bus is tardy. Waiting students will also be able to track buses themselves by checking a computer login. Pifer noted that this would not be effective immediately.

“The GPS will be put in place as soon as we can,” Pifer said. “But we want to test it and then roll it out.”

The last significant change includes the addition of an entirely new bus route: the Gold Line. This line will be used to shuttle students living in the 19th Ward to and from the River Campus, running Monday through Wednesday from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. and Thursday through Sunday from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. This new schedule was effective as of Monday, Nov. 26. Although no hard-copy schedules are currently circulating, the times are available online at

Pifer was optimistic about the many changes that have been made and those the University community have yet to look forward to.

“We have seen improvement in [First Transit’s] adherence to schedules and routes,” he said. “There has been a decrease in calls, and we are ultimately on the right track to provide quality support.”

Squires is a member of the class of 2010.

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