Eight Months Later, I’m Not Waiting for the Shuttle Anymore

The Charger Bulletin

By: Ryan Rolin, Contributing Writer

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This is going to be my final semester at the University of New Haven. This newspaper was generous enough to offer me the opportunity to air my grievances publicly before I walk away from this campus for the final time at the end of this term. So I wanted to take this opportunity to try and leave the university better than I found it, in whatever small way that I can. While nothing could convince me to stay at this point, I would like nothing more than to see the university’s problematic transportation system improved. Even though it likely will not help me, it is good enough that I might be able to leave this place knowing that the students who arrive here in the fall of 2014 will not have to worry about getting onto and off of campus in the way that I and many other commuting students do today.

Metro North Train / AP Photo
Metro North Train / AP Photo

If I am being honest with myself and with those who are reading this article, I really never could manage to take a full course load while simultaneously dealing with the slate of awful transportation ‘options’ I have been provided with to reach this campus as part of my daily commute.Shore Line East trains do not continue west of New Haven, with the exception of five through trains to Stamford per weekday. As of publication time, two are westbound morning trains that arrive in West Haven at 7:11 and 7:48 a.m. (37 minutes apart), one is an eastbound morning train that leaves West Haven at 8:59 a.m., and the last two are eastbound evening trains departing West Haven at 5:32 p.m. and 5:53 p.m. (21 minutes apart). All passengers at all other times must disembark upon arrival into Union Station and transfer to a Metro-North train. This is in spite of the fact that there is more than enough room on the tracks for almost every current Shore Line East train to continue to Stamford, and mostly because Metro-North is unwilling to give up any space that it feels it might need later. For what is no good reason at all, passengers aboard a mid-day Shore Line East train are dropped off in New Haven Union Station and left to wait for a connecting train to continue their journeys westward.

So, what are commuters from the east supposed to do to get to UNH, then? There are several options; unfortunately, none of them are good.

Through the campus police department, all university students are entitled to participate in the university’s UPass program, which provides each and every participating student with a bus pass good for unlimited free travel on any bus in the state operated by CTTransit throughout the semester. (The university claims that the bus pass is only good for New Haven bus routes, but the fare boxes and the drivers on every CTTransit bus will accept any CTTransit UPass.) Resident students automatically receive their UPass, however, commuting students must expend the effort to ‘sign up’ for the program and pick up their UPass from campus police in person. Regardless, a student armed with the UPass has a couple of bus routes to choose from to get to New Haven Union Station.

There are the M bus services, which run about every half hour and which students can board from the corner of Front Avenue about half a mile down the hill from the campus. Once on board the M bus, students can ride direct to South Church Street in New Haven, where they must disembark and walk the final quarter mile of their journey through the Tower Lane public housing projects. Alternatively, students could take a detour down South Church and back up Union Avenue, which turns a quarter-mile walk into a half-mile walk, plus this requires negotiating a rather large and potentially high-speed intersection. The good news, at least, is that this way you’re not making multiple unprotected connections; which is more than I can say for most of the other options.

If three-quarters to a full mile is too much walking for you to stomach, perhaps because of torrential rainfall or maybe because it’s 9 p.m., there are a number of bus options that will pull you right up to the front door of the station. Students could board either the O bus or the B bus heading downtown, and transfer there to another bus bound for Union Station. Unfortunately, because these buses arrive on different sides of the university, students are forced to make a snap decision as to which bus stop to wait at with no information as to which bus is coming first and potentially pass up multiple buses arriving on the “wrong” side of the university; or they can walk a quarter-mile down the hill to Allingtown Green, where these bus routes merge together, and hope that none of the buses show up and fly past them before they make it to the bus stop. Once on their choice of bus, students can ride to the corner of Church and George Streets downtown, where they can wait for whichever of the J bus or the Union Station shuttle bus happens to show up first. And since these connections are unprotected, there’s a very real chance that the bus you’re trying to catch will be leaving just as you get there, spelling out a potentially long wait for you.

If you don’t have a UPass, or perhaps if none of the bus options are tolerable to you, there’s also the university’s preferred alternative. The train ride east from West Haven to New Haven is ‘free’ at all times, in the sense that Metro-North conductors don’t bother to check tickets out of West Haven. Going westbound, the train ride from Union Station to West Haven is also ‘free’ in the sense that there are generally too many people and not enough conductors on the train to check everyone’s ticket before arrival into West Haven, meaning that it’s possible to choose your seat wisely and avoid having the ticket that you didn’t buy before boarding checked. Otherwise, the on-paper fare for the one stop ride is $2.50 and tickets don’t expire for sixty days after purchase, so feel free to buy one ticket and take as many trips as you can before someone collects it.

Just know when you do so, that what you aren’t paying in money, you’ll be paying in time. As previously mentioned, with the exception of five Shore Line East trains that don’t really work for anyone except the rare university student with an eight – five class schedule and absolutely no reason to ever leave campus between those times, no through service is provided between points east of Union Station and West Haven. Everyone not on those five trains must make a connection in New Haven. This would not be nearly as much of a problem as it is today, were these connections well-coordinated; and yet, the overwhelming majority of connections in either directions come paired with an absurdly lengthy waiting period. Connecting trains from either of the two agencies involved in this changeover have a nasty habit of usually taking at least 20 and sometimes as many as 36 minutes to actually show up during the mid-day and during evenings after rush hour ends. In other words, rather than being able to count on having a train ready and waiting to carry you to West Haven when you arrive in New Haven, you can more reliably count on having to find some way to waste half an hour of your time before you can have the privilege of continuing your trip westward or eastward.

Yet even that would be somewhat tolerable, were students able to count on the university’s own train station shuttle to quickly whisk them away from West Haven shortly after their trains arrive. Alas, even this cannot be counted on, for the shuttle bus wastes a tremendous amount of time stopping at no less than three different spots on campus plus another stop at Notre Dame High School. After 3 PM, the shuttle bus devolves into a courtesy van and loses one of its three campus stops, yet the van continues to stop at Notre Dame right up until the very last shuttle run. What are the chances that anyone will be boarding the shuttle at Notre Dame for its scheduled 8:30 PM departure? Regardless of the question of whether a university shuttle service has any business ferrying high schoolers around, the fact remains that stopping at three or four different locations around campus results in nothing less than the shuttle taking 40 minutes to complete one round trip, with nearly half of that wasted on providing front door service to a neighboring high school and the Dunkin’ Donuts behind Bergami Hall, time that could have been better spent on having students walk to Maxcy and running twice as much shuttle instead. Too bad for anyone whose train shows up five minutes after the shuttle’s scheduled departure. You could hope it somehow managed to fall behind schedule, but you’re probably in for a 35 minute wait at West Haven. And if it’s after 6 p.m., you’ll be waiting outside, because that’s precisely when West Haven station ‘closes’ and locks its doors in spite of the thirty scheduled arrivals after 6 p.m. A ‘closed’ station, of course, is a huge problem for passengers stuck waiting for any sort of vehicle, but it’s not a problem if you’re just walking back to your car and driving away.

And that, of course, is the final option in a series of sub-par options – giving up on mass transit, and just driving instead. Driving in, of course, subjects you to all the perils and pitfalls of driving in New Haven and driving in general. You’re dealing with traffic, you’re dealing with parking, and the time you spend behind the wheel is not available for any constructive purposes such as studying. Yet, even the never-ending nightmare that is the Q Bridge is pleasant when objectively compared against the hard truth that trying to take transit to the university is guaranteed to waste nearly an hour of anyone’s time, time which is also likely to be less than productive for students. And, if I truly wanted to commit to driving out the remainder of my final semester here – believe me, I don’t – the university would be all too happy to offer me free parking with no questions asked. That’s what I’m ‘entitled’ to as a commuter, but I find myself wishing that I was entitled to better alternatives than these.

This all begs the question, who exactly is commuting from the east, or from the north? What percentage of our commuter student body hails from the scenic villages along the Shore Line, or along the busy Hartford-Springfield Corridor? Just how many vehicles contributing to the parking crisis on campus could have been left at home, or parked at train stations throughout the state? I couldn’t tell you. The university certainly has access to that information, and it wouldn’t be difficult to make that data available. Perhaps, indeed, the number of people commuting from directions other than west is small enough to be safely written off. Then again, perhaps it isn’t. Conducting a study to determine that shouldn’t take very much time at all.

In fact, I would like to take this opportunity to put out a call to all commuters reading this newspaper. I would love to hear from you. Please email me at my university address with the name of the town you’re commuting from, and the way you get to the university. Before I leave this place, I promise to publish the results of this ad-hoc survey.

In the meantime, to my classmates, my professors, and everyone committed to seeing their time at UNH through to the end, I congratulate you. You have my best wishes in your continued pursuit of whatever goals brought you here and keep you here today. Believe it or not, I am somewhat disappointed that it has come to this, and some part of me will always miss this place and the people who inhabit it. However, I cannot see myself continuing here, for better or for worse. Whether or not the shuttle service to Union Station is restored, and I truly hope that it will be, I cannot afford to keep waiting for a shuttle that may never come.