As an out-of-state student from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, my trips are characterized by experiences with the Peter Pan buses and trips to the airport, just like many other students. I have had terrible experiences using Peter Pan, and I know many students have had similar.
When I came to tour the University of Massachusetts, my mother and I were told that it was very easy to take the Peter Pan to Logan International Airport in Boston. We were also told that one could go to Bradley International Airport in Hartford. While of course it may seem that Bradley is just a short drive away or that one can just hop on the Peter Pan to Boston to get to Logan, both are actually very expensive in reality. Why is UMass so difficult and expensive to get to?
My trips usually begin very early in the morning. I have to catch the Peter Pan, which then drives to Springfield. In Springfield, sometimes I have a short layover and then I get on another bus to South Station in Boston. Once that two hour ride is over, I walk to the other end of South Station with my luggage and ride the Silver Line to Logan. The Silver Line takes about 20 to 30 minutes. Then, I arrive at the airport, usually two to three hours early. I then fly to one airport, usually Newark, where I wait another hour or two for my one hour flight to Pittsburgh. By the time I get home, I usually have been traveling for 13 or 14 hours. If I were to drive home from UMass, it would take me eight to nine hours.
Between the cost of the Peter Pan, which is around $60 roundtrip, the Silver Line ticket, which is $2.50 one way, and then the cost of the flight—which depends on what time of year I am flying—it adds up. The cost of flights fluctuate throughout the year, so Thanksgiving roundtrip flights are about $300 and Christmas break roundtrip flights are about $250. It depends on what time of year it is, so the price of flights does fluctuate, but connecting flights from Logan are relatively cheaper (usually about half the price). So, over the past three years, I have flown home for three Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks.
Of course, each trip’s prices fluctuate depending on the specific flight, if it is nonstop or direct, and what airline it is. But, if one does some simple math, with each Thanksgiving trip costing about $362.50 and each Christmas trip costing about $312.50, I have spent about (and most likely more than) $2,025 during my time at UMass on travel. This is a huge cost. This is about what I pay annually for my meal plan. This is in addition to my rising tuition as an out-of-state student.
So why don’t I fly out of Bradley? There are a couple things that stop many students from flying out of Bradley. Because it is such a small airport, even though it is closer, it is much more expensive than Logan. This is due to the cost to take a private van service to Bradley, which is $53 one-way plus gratuity, almost double the price of the Peter Pan for half the travel distance. Then, the price for a flight from Bradley to Pittsburgh is usually upward of $400 for a connecting flight and even more for a nonstop flight. So, if I were to fly out of Bradley, the costs would have exceeded $3000 over the past three years. I can’t even imagine the costs for students coming from other parts of the country and especially from other parts of the world.
Our community has a spectacular public transportation system with the Pioneer Valley Transportation Authority. That stands in stark contrast to the inefficient, expensive means of transportation out of the Pioneer Valley. Up until recently, one had to print out their Peter Pan ticket; mobile tickets were not accepted. Peter Pan does not offer refunds. I learned this the hard way, when I missed my Peter Pan bus home from spring break freshman year due to a delayed flight. Because all of the Peter Pan buses that day were booked, JetBlue had to pay for me to take a taxi back to campus. The transportation system is not only inefficient, but it is also behind the times and not customer friendly.
Why hasn’t the University or even the Commonwealth of Massachusetts made it easier to get to the Pioneer Valley? On the UMass International Programs Office’s website, they list all the different ways to get to UMass. The cheapest option is still Peter Pan, which doubles or triples the travel time to Boston. The other options are expensive, privately-owned shuttles. Students only have expensive and time-consuming options.
The Commonwealth does have rail services to parts of Western Massachusetts. There are stations in Holyoke, Northampton and Greenfield. But why not Amherst? Taxpayers in all of these cities pay for the MBTA, so why hasn’t the Commonwealth tried to extend its rail system more?
Many students, especially international students, are given limited options when it comes to transportation to campus. I know that we choose to come here, but there should be better options, even for in-state students. If UMass wants to encourage more students from outside of Massachusetts, UMass and the Pioneer Valley, it needs to step up in providing students with either better options or, at least, more transparency in transportation options when choosing this school. Out-of-state students pay so much to come here already and many are getting ripped off with the very high prices that result from the shuttle services and lengthy bus rides. While I know that I can’t ask the University to magically solve the problem, I do want to ask for more transparency surrounding transportation in and out of the Pioneer Valley so that students can make informed decisions surrounding their trips.
Emilia Beuger is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]