In response to the upcoming implementation of the Heritage bus pass system, The Prodigy reached out to various departments across campus and asked specific questions about the impact that this system will have on the student body. After several days of waiting in anticipation for an administrative response, Martin Reed— the Executive Director of Student Affairs Auxiliaries— replied, and suggested a sit down conversation with The Prodigy. He explained that he was serving as a representative for several different administrative departments, the most notable being Transportation and Parking Services (TAPS). While Reed relayed the messages he was instructed to, he wasn’t afraid to offer his own input. Through interviewing Reed, The Prodigy is now able to bring a new level of transparency to the table.
To start off the interview, Reed was asked about some of the logistics of the new system, including how often the Heritage express passes will be distributed. He commented (on behalf of TAPS), “The heritage bus passes will be printed and issued on a semester basis. The Heritage bus passes are issued to current heritage residents on UC Housing contracts based on the student rosters. This process will carry through the duration of the lease agreement. The lease in our master lease agreement is supposed to end in June 2020.” When the plan ends, Reed states, “Most likely… the Heritage Express would go away. But, if there were a lot of UC Merced students still living in those apartment communities, then the university would need to decide if it needs to continue providing more or less transportation/shuttle service. It will be based on demand. They will have to look at ridership data to determine where they need more or less service.”
Another question that many students had was about the costs of this new system. Reed answers, “There is no additional cost for the Heritage bus passes, unless a bus pass is lost or misplaced, in which case there is a $5 replacement fee. The Heritage bus pass identification requirement does not have an impact on increased student fees.” When asked if there was any sort of fiscal benefit, Reed responds, “It’s not based on a fiscal benefit. So, there is no fiscal benefit. The change was due to all the complaints about the busses being full and students missing classes or having to take uber/lyft to get to campus to take a midterm. The university decided to try to enforce the reason why the shuttle was set up– which was to provide service to the students who have housing contracts out there. There is no fiscal impact, it’s mostly operational. It’s an operational issue that we are trying to solve.”
While it may seem to some as if the physical cards were the most practical solution, several students began to question why the school wasn’t taking advantage of the CatCards tap capabilities, or instead using non removable stickers. Both of these suggestions were made with sustainability in mind, and were proposed solutions to limit the unnecessary waste which would be generated by disposing of plastic cards after each semester. In response, Reed comments, “This is what I think I know, because again, I can’t speak for TAPS. This decision was made in December in order to make it operational by January, which would be the start of classes. It would have been a logistical challenge to get everyone to go and visit the CatCard office to maybe put a sticker on there.” When asked if picking up the new Heritage express passes would pose the same potential issue as making students go to the office to pick up a sticker, Reed concedes, “It’s kind of the same thing, but the CatCard office has to [become involved in] that. Students would have to have a conversation with the CatCard office about their eligibility, and then you have to put a different sticker on there for each season because students constantly move… It’s too hard to manage that. It’s just easier logistically to say “Ok, here’s a Heritage shuttle card, it’s good for the spring semester” and then they will issue a new one for summer, and another new one for the fall.”
Another potential concern about the system is that since there is no form of photo identification associated with the cards, that they can be given/sold to students who may live in Heritage, but not through a school contract. In response, Reed states, “There’s always that concern. People learn how to kind of work the system so no matter what you try and do, people will always try and work around it. From my understanding, when you ride the Heritage shuttle, you will have to show your CatCard ID and your Heritage Express card, so you will actually have to show both cards to ride. But we will see how effective that is.”
One of the most important topics of discussion was whether or not he believed that it would work, given that it was attempted (and failed) in the past. “I think that from my perspective, and I will speak for myself, I know it didn’t work before, but hopefully we learned from some of those lessons and it works better this time. I mean we have a 50/50 chance. One thing we didn’t do— or have done better this time— is communicating to the campus what is happening and how we are trying to solve it. So I think there is better communication this time. About this time last year, we didn’t do a great job at communicating and kind of just did it, implemented it, and then when it wasn’t working we just gave up. I think this time we communicated better with the campus and have a better plan,” Reed admits. When asked if TAPS anticipates bus delays with the implementation of the new system, Reed states, “That I do not know the answer to. I don’t know if it is expected… When it starts, will be when we find out how well its working, and how efficient we are at loading/unloading and things like that. I think we will be keeping our eye on how its going, and we will definitely be getting feedback from drivers/riders about how it’s going, and continue to make changes to improve the service. Then, we will probably have to listen to all of the student concerns from the people who can’t ride, and figure out how to provide better transportation service to those individuals that need it. I think what TAPS wants to do is to try it, and then make incremental changes to improve the service. Especially if we find that it’s only busy certain hours in the morning or evening, then we can allow more people to ride in the non-peak periods. We will find a way to give out more cards or what changes need to be made so more people can ride. I think the campus is trying to be really flexible because we won’t know what’s going to happen until we get there.”
Photo Credit: Marcus Fox