To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Univ. discusses 2021 Campus Transportation Survey

Campus Planning and Operations Vice President Lois Stanley and student intern Feigele Lechtiner ’23 held a Zoom meeting to discuss findings from the 2021 Campus Transportation Survey on Tuesday, Oct. 26.

Last spring, Lechtiner and a few other students started to get involved in urban planning, specifically looking at campus transportation, and approached Stanley. The students requested that the university take a closer look at how campus transportation services could be improved. This project continued into the summer, and so far has yielded a change in the leadership of the campus transportation department, as well as the results of this survey. 

In the meeting, Lechtiner presented information on the impact of student transportation on student life, the current transportation network, problems with the current transportation system, what has already been done to address them and the next steps for service improvements. 

Lechtiner started off the presentation by explaining that Brandeis currently offers two kinds of shuttles that go to Waltham: Waltham BranVans—which have 10 spots and are driven by students—and Joseph’s Waltham shuttles—which are buses that have approximately 30 spots and are driven by hired drivers. The Brandeis transportation network also includes Boston/Cambridge shuttles. Lechtiner compiled a schedule of the different shuttles, their routes and notes for each shuttle in a chart included in the presentation slides, which can be found on the Public Safety’s van and shuttle services page.

Lechtiner then broke down the results of the 2021 Campus Transportation Survey, which consisted of results from 841 students, 578 of which were undergraduate students and 261 of which were graduate students. A full rundown of the survey response rate can be found here. 

Of those who responded, 19 percent of undergraduate students said they used the Campus BranVan daily. 19 percent of respondents said they rode the campus BranVan one to two times a week and 18.5 percent of respondents said they rode the campus BranVan a couple of times a month. According to the survey, Joseph’s campus shuttle had slightly lower ridership rates among undergraduate students and higher ridership rates among graduate students.

In contrast, Waltham shuttle ridership rates were much higher, with 80 percent of undergraduate respondents stating that they have used the Waltham BranVan. The daily and weekly ridership for the Waltham shuttles was highest for graduate students who live off campus, according to the survey.

For the Boston/Cambridge Shuttles, the survey results showed that 49 percent of undergraduate respondents use the Boston/Cambridge shuttle at least once a weekend and 26 percent of graduate respondents use the Boston/Cambridge shuttle at least once a weekend. 

In the summary of student responses to the impact of transportation on student life, many students wrote that Brandeis’ transportation services alleviated some issues related to balancing on and off campus life. 

“I really appreciated that the Waltham shuttle was in service this winter as someone who worked on campus,” one student wrote. 

“I am able to participate in campus life because I have a way of getting home,” another student added.

Additional positive impacts of campus transportation services included in the slides were that they improved sustainability since fewer students were driving cars, they reduced the “parking crunch on campus” as well as spending on transportation and made transportation easier for mobility-impaired students.

“Multiple students wrote that they would not have been able to have the experiences they did, socially, professionally, or academically, were it not for these shuttles,” said Lechtiner during the information meeting. 

However, students responding to the survey also noted that their dependence on the university’s transportation services has hindered their student life when the transportation system doesn’t function effectively, citing a lack of available information, issues with tracking the vehicles and the inconsistency of the shuttle arrival times.

“I have had to miss meetings with professors and meal times because of the unreliability of the shuttles,” read one student’s response.

Another student wrote, “I couldn’t use the Waltham shuttle after work in the winter because I couldn’t stand outside in the cold to wait and see if it was running or not and tracking was not available.”

The survey also revealed that most students learned about the campus transportation system “through word of mouth.” Some students were unaware of different modes of university transportation that they could have benefited from, and others were confused about how these services were supposed to be used. Some of the confusion stemmed from the reservation system as well as from the hand signals used indicating whether the shuttle was for campus or for the Waltham area: “C” for campus and “W” for Waltham. 

According to the results of the survey, another concern students have about the current transportation system is their safety. 48 percent of survey respondents said that they felt unsafe while waiting for campus transportation, and 19.1 percent reported that they felt unsafe while riding campus transportation. Most written responses to this question cited the unreliability of the transportation services and waiting for transportation at night as reasons why they felt unsafe, leading Lechetin to conclude that the lighting at campus stops and information about shuttle estimated time of arrival (ETA) needed to be improved. 

Students with disabilities are also impacted by the unreliability of campus transportation, many opting to use their own cars instead of the Accessible Transport (AT) Van. 

“AT Van only helps if you have a set schedule and ample time to wait. It was not an accessible form of accommodation. I simply had to use my own car and pay a lot of parking tickets,” wrote one student. 

76 percent of survey respondents reported that they had not even heard of the Accessible Transport Van, 9 percent of whom also responded that they would have benefitted from the service. 

To develop solutions for these various issues, the survey asked students what they would improve about the Waltham Shuttle Service, the Boston/Cambridge shuttle and the lack of communication about the shuttle services. 

Common responses included providing more information about the location of shuttle stops, improving shuttle tracking on the Branda app, increasing how frequently the shuttle runs or how many shuttles are running and fixing the reservation system so students are sure that the BranVan will have enough space for them. 

Survey respondents also expressed that they would like information about the schedules of shuttles, locations of stops and who to contact if they’re experiencing a transportation issue to be made more widely available. Popular platforms that respondents selected to receive more information about university-sponsored transportation included the Branda app, a regularly updated Instagram account and an updated website. 

Campus Planning and Operations has begun to address some of these concerns by posting shuttle times and maps of the different routes shuttles are taking on Instagram regularly and providing the shuttle schedule, details, live tracking and digital route map for each shuttle service on the Campus Shuttles and Van Routes page, last updated on Aug. 30. This section also includes information on campus transportation service changes for the fall semester and an updated schedule for the Boston/Cambridge shuttle, last updated on Sept. 17. Information about these changes can also be found on the Branda app, according to the website. They have also begun implementing a signal system whereby drivers hold up hand signals “C” or “W” to indicate whether they are a campus or Waltham shuttle.

“We also include information about [campus transportation] in the orientation process for new students and for graduate students now … so that’s probably how we get the word out generally, though most students that need our services are using other accommodations so they communicate to us through that, but we need to do more about orientation and social media,” said Stanley. “The first thing [we] need to do is take a look at how the resources are deployed now and to see if they are being deployed in the most efficient fashion to achieve the goals that we’re most interested in.” 

Campus Operations can be contacted at campusoperations@brandeis.edu for further information.

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