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Univ. should reform BranVan reservation system

By Kevin Healey

Section: Opinions

January 30, 2015

The nice part of a new semester, besides all the new classes, professors and general excitement, is all the free time. Though most professors start off right away with homework, there aren’t papers, tests or exams to stress about for now. Every semester, students take advantage of these benefits by traveling into Waltham, Boston and other areas of the state. Last weekend, I did the same, booking a seat on the BranVan to travel to an event off campus.

The van arrived during a rainstorm, and I got on, but at the next stop there were too many people to fit onboard. The van had been completely reserved, but someone had gotten on anyway and pretended they had made a reservation. What followed was around 10 minutes of frantic conversation between the passengers on the van as we attempted to figure who was lying, all while one poor woman waited next to the van in the rain for no reason other than bad luck. Eventually we gave up trying to figure it out, and the van drove away to leave that vexed passenger waiting another half hour in the rain.

The unfortunate truth is that these types of situations happen all the time with our BranVan system. Our online registration process is now streamlined and efficient, but that doesn’t translate into effectiveness in real life. These errors make people less likely to use our transportation system and weaken access to the community around our university. These flaws, though fixable, are serious.

The first and most pressing issue is scheduling. Using the app, one is given the option of a BranVan pick up every half hour starting at 3:30. If you’re at Rabb, or another of the first couple stops, then you’re set, since the van will come around that time. If you’re at Hannaford’s or on Moody Street, however, there’s no telling how long it could take to come to your stop, stretching from five or 10 minutes with little traffic, to over 30 at rush hour. You could use the app to track the van, but that prevents you from enjoying whatever event you’re currently at to constantly check the time. This lack of a regular schedule is compounded by the need to often circle back or switch vans when they fill up too early and can’t pick up everyone who reserved a seat. This throws the entire schedule off another five or 10 minutes, so that after a few hours it’s impossible to predict when the van will come.
This also causes another problem: It’s impossible to tell how long it takes a van to complete its course and come back to your stop. If you’re at a movie or an event, this problem becomes especially troublesome, because you cannot predict when to leave. Every time I’ve been to a movie in Waltham, I’ve faced the conundrum of deciding whether to skip the last five minutes of the movie to catch the van or wait, possibly for up to an hour, in the freezing cold for the next one. The lack of an organized schedule really hurts our ability to plan out our events.

Vans aren’t as large as buses, so it’s not surprising they have limited capacity and sometimes fill up. That’s why we have a reservation system to make it fair deciding who gets a seat. Unfortunately, the reservations made online are meaningless. Anyone can get on any BranVan at any time, as long as there’s an open seat, and claim to have made a reservation. This means that the people who are most likely to get a seat aren’t those who call ahead but instead those who choose the earliest stops.

These problems aren’t necessarily that difficult to solve. By implementing a couple of simple reforms, BranVans could run much more efficiently and effectively. Firstly, our vans need to stick to their schedule. Even if someone comes late to a stop and misses their van, it shouldn’t loop around to get them and put everyone else’s schedule in confusion. Furthermore, we need to require passengers to prove they made a reservation before getting onto the van, possibly by showing their confirmation email. This will prevent anyone from abusing the system as commonly happens.

Overall, our transportation systems on campus connect us to our city and give us a lot of opportunities, but their flaws injure their usefulness to us. With a few simple reforms, our BranVans could be running much better.

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