Sugar Land Shuttle restrictions replaced with priority system
Editor’s note: An older version of this story included several errors. First, TPAC exists purely as an advisory body and can only make recommendations to the administration. Additionally, the meeting was hosted solely by TPAC and shuttle fees were discussed exclusively in the context of a historical example. Comments from Parking and Transportation Services officials were sourced from a recording provided to The Cougar by an individual who will remain anonymous.
Friday, the Transportation Parking Advisory Committee held a meeting behind closed doors to discuss the controversial changes made to the Sugar Land Shuttle last week.
They unanimously voted (8-0) to recommend postponing their decision to limit eligibility for the shuttle until spring. In its place, the committee decided to recommend implementing a two-line priority boarding program. The new system grants priority to students who have classes at UH and UHSL during peak hours — as opposed to the outright restriction originally announced in last week’s email.
“We want to instill a prioritization system and postpone the strict enforcement that was going to take effect Oct. 2 until the next semester, and then possibly look into a shuttle fee or permit of some sort going into the spring,” said TPAC committee member and SGA Sen. Anahi Ortega.
The two-line system will be immediately implemented to ensure Technology Division students enrolled on both campuses can reliably get from class to class. Officials have decided to prioritize these students as they were the population the shuttle’s were originally meant to serve, Ortega said.
In a joint-release sent out by email Tuesday, Parking and Transportation Services and SGA President Benjamin Rizk laid out the specifics for the new system.
“For the remainder of the fall 2023 semester, if there are available seats following priority boarding, students who do not have classes at both locations will be allowed to board. A seat on a particular bus is not guaranteed,” the email read.
They have also discussed introducing a permitting system similar in function to parking passes. Parking officials said they expect these to be similar in price to zone permits, which currently cost just over $400 a year.
“Priority students will be able to board first as they can scan their Cougar Card and get on. If there are any leftover seats then other students will be allowed to board,” said senior journalism student and vice chair of TPAC, Zahra Gokal. “This is so students can still ride but it gives them time and space to find an alternative, so it’s a temporary two-line solution.”
The Cougar previously reported students’ concerns with overcrowding and long wait times while using the shuttle. Since then, Parking and Transportation sent an email hoping to restrict the shuttle to only Technology Division students during peak hours.
For roughly three years after COVID, the shuttle has operated under a relaxed policy. These rules allowed anyone to ride without verifying eligibility, Gokal said.
However, long waits and overcrowding have forced administrators to step in. Officials at Parking and Transportation services cited spiraling demand as cause for immediate action. Additionally, existing infrastructure and institutional experience have made the proposed shuttle permit an attractive option.
“We certainly can’t handle the demand now and it’s just growing and growing,” said Assistant Vice President of Parking and Transportation Services, Neil Hart. “People are talking right. So we know for a fact, that by instituting a shuttle permit we can sell it exactly like we do a parking permit and we can do it based on demand.”
People have indeed been talking. Last week’s email spurred a burst of outrage from students who felt the change left them with little warning and few options.
“Doing this during the middle of the semester is a terrible idea because people can’t plan that much in advance,” said senior public policy major Sammer Abdulmajeed. “I have classes at 11:30, if the bus is restricted until 11 a.m. and I get on the bus, I’m going to miss over half my class.”
The University directed students to alternatives like the Coogs on Alternative and Sustainable Transportation program and the Fort Bend Express Commuter Park and Ride. However, for many students, these solutions are less than ideal.
“What I’ve been hearing from other people is the Metro is really slow and takes hours, so that’s not really a feasible option because it takes a lot of stops,” Abdulmajeed said.
Parking and Transportation Services and TPAC will meet again Oct. 20 to discuss details. For now, students can only hope for the best and plan ahead but they are asking Parking and Transportation to take into consideration those being affected by the changes.
“We need to understand the point of view of those people who all of a sudden have a service taken away from them. Something they’ve had access to for their entire university career,” Gokal said.