Baylor shuttles go the extra mile to keep students safe

Students wait for their bus at the Sid Richardson Building stop. Chase Li | Photographer

By Meredith Pratt | Staff Writer

With COVID-19 health regulations in place across the university, the Baylor University Shuttle (BUS) system has adopted new safety policies to ensure the wellbeing of both drivers and passengers.

To help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, the BUS system is now requiring students to wear masks on all shuttle rides. Passengers are also required to be seated in one of the 24 shuttle seats for the duration of the ride.

In the past, students could choose to sit or stand without worrying about the shuttle’s capacity. However, in March, Waco Transit System announced in a press release that it would be limiting the capacity to 10 passengers per vehicle.

Although the capacity has now been increased from 10 to 24 passengers in adherence with the 50% capacity regulation given by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Fort Worth senior Allen Jamir said the limited capacity on the shuttles still affects his morning commute.

“Now with the whole COVID thing, we’re having to wait for like two buses, especially in the morning … during those times when it’s rush hour where everyone’s trying to get to class,” Jamir said. “I understand, though, that Baylor is trying to do the best they can, and with the limited seating, although it’s not ideal, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, so it’s important to keep safety in mind.”

Like Jamir, Grand Rapids, Mich., junior Amara Bragg said she has found that securing a seat on the bus is not as easy as it once was.

“It’s been difficult to find space,” Bragg said. “I’ve had to wait for other buses because [the first bus] was too full, so it makes my day feel a lot longer.”

Director of Parking & Transportation Services Matt Penney said he acknowledges that the new policies will at first be “uncomfortable” and “different” for students, but he added that “the average ride time is only about seven minutes.”

The shuttle system, which now consists of the Gold, Green, Silver and Red routes, arrives at 10-to-15-minute intervals from 7:10 a.m. to 5:10 p.m. Monday through Friday. Students can be dropped off outside of East Village or next to the Sid Richardson Building.

The Blue Route, a previous fifth route offered by the BUS system, was suspended for the fall semester as a direct result of the new CDC capacity guidelines.

“A 50% reduction in the number of passengers allowed on a vehicle created a significant challenge,” Penney said. “Our buses are frequently full, carrying 50-plus passengers, and now they would be limited to 24 passengers. It was easy to envision scenarios where students were not allowed to board the bus and were left angry on the side of the road.”

“For any BUS route to work well in these conditions, it would need to be supported by additional vehicles. One route would need to be redirected to allow the other routes to survive,” Penney said. “The Blue Route covered an area that was determined to be the easiest for students to walk, bike or drive to campus.”

Penney also said his department is hopeful the Blue Route will fully return in the spring.

General manager for Waco Transit Serena M. Stevenson said she wants students to know that Waco Transit is committed to its partnership with Baylor and to keeping its passengers healthy.

“Safety is our priority, and the students … we want them to be here. We want them to stay on campus,” Stevenson said.

Waco transit has increased cleaning of the shuttles through disinfecting during the day and the use of an electrostatic cleaner at night.

“We’ve always been really vigilant about cleaning our vehicles,” Stevenson said.

With multiple safety precautions in place, the City of Waco continues to encourage students to use the shuttle system, which is operated by Waco Transit.

“Our hope is that we can continue to provide safe, efficient transportation options for the Baylor students, and we want to reinforce that it’s safety first for us,” Stevenson said.

Stevenson also said that for the first time the BUS will be available for students’ use on Labor Day this year.