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Thursday, December 13, 2018

Campus

Say hello to Wi-Fi, smoother rides on new campus shuttles


The University received new shuttles that include free on-board Wi-Fi.  | Billion Tekleab/The Cougar

UH Parking and Transportation Services rolled out new, tech-equipped shuttles last week.

The new and improved shuttles replace an old fleet and will be used to continue transporting students to locations around campus.

“All new buses feature a host of upgrades and improvements, including upgraded GPS tracking, free on-board Wi-Fi and destination messages,” said Director of Parking and Transportation Services Robert Browand.

The new shuttles also feature all front-facing seats, providing more space and comfort for riders.

“We always want what’s best for our students and to support student success,” Browand said. “With our service contract entering its last year, we had the opportunity to enhance or upgrade our services, so we negotiated a new fleet and upgraded the technology as part of the new contract.”  

With new Wi-Fi, students will be able to continue working on schoolwork or browsing social media while riding, providing a modernity upgrade. The amount of new seats also means not as many students will need to stand when the bus is packed.

The old buses did not meet the needs of current students, Browand said.

“The existing shuttles were seven years old and at the end of their life cycle,” Browand said. “Plus, technology has changed in the past seven years, so it was time to upgrade that, too.”

The new shuttles continue to operate on the same routes as were previously offered, including the new circulator routes added at the beginning of the fall semester.

“Enhancements (to routes) were made as part of our switch to Zone Parking,” Browand said. “We added a campus circulator that goes both clock and counter-clockwise around campus to support these zones.”

Students throughout campus have taken note of the improvements to the ride experience, but say the shuttle system still suffers from lengthy wait times.

Biomedical engineering freshman Hussain Alcassab said he has had a good experience with the new shuttles so far.

“I’ve noticed that the shuttles are a lot more comfortable and feel safer than the previous shuttles, even when standing up,” Alcassab said. “The rides on (the) new shuttle buses have also been much smoother than those on the old shuttles because of improvements to legroom and front-facing seats now occupying the whole bus.”

Mechanical engineering and technology junior David Marroquin said he noticed the improved shuttles the day they were implemented. Like Alcassah, Marroquin noticed the much smoother ride of the new shuttles.

“The buses are a lot quieter since they’re new,” Marroquin said. “There is a lot less rattling in them now, and the engine also sounds smoother.”

Despite the overall increased quality of experience with the shuttles, students still see room for improvement.

“One change I’d like to see is the utilization of the back door,” Alcassab said. “Right now, they only use the front door for entering and exiting, which causes longer wait times.”

Marroquin said that one downside of the new shuttles’ switch to front-facing seats is a decrease in aisle size, meaning there is less room to maneuver when boarding and exiting the vehicle.

Ahsan said he would like to see shortened wait times at shuttle stops.

“It still takes a long time for shuttles to come to the stop and go to ERP, but that is expected,” Ahsan said.

Wait times continue to be long at shuttle stops, even with the recently added circulator routes.

“The new circulator routes were added this academic year, and we will always look for ways to enhance the student experience in our parking and transportation operations,” Browand said.

UH Parking and Transportation Services has looked at expanding routes to offer more accessibility for students in the future, he said.

“Expanding or adding more routes is always an option we consider,” Browand said. “However, since the transportation operation is completely funded by parking permits at this time, we have to be good stewards and always be conscious of what any additional expansion would do to the cost of the parking permits.”

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