UMass needs better public transportation

Then again, so does all of America

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Anish Roy / Daily Collegian

By Zach Leach, Collegian Columnist

Over winter break, I went back home to Atlanta and visited some of my friends at Georgia Tech. We went out one night on campus, and at around midnight I asked about getting a bus (which are called “Stingers” at Georgia Tech) back to the dorms. My friend told me that it wouldn’t be necessary, pulled out their phone, and told me they were going to call a “Stingerette.” Fifteen minutes later, a Stingerette van pulled up to the sidewalk and took us all right back to the dorm. The use of these vans is completely free to students, and they run all night. These Stingerettes essentially serve as a free Uber for students, allowing everyone to get back safely at the end of the night.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority and I appreciate the work of all of its drivers. It’s important to acknowledge, however, that the system has its faults. Between scheduling errors and busses not being where they’re supposed to be, traveling via the PVTA during the day frequently proves difficult. Additionally, overcrowding on all of the busses is not only inconvenient, it’s a safety hazard in the wake of a pandemic. I believe that the biggest issue one faces when riding the PVTA is attempting to travel at night. Busses become limited at night which means students have fewer options to get back home safely, at the time when it’s most important.

A “Stingerette”-style system adopted at the University of Massachusetts would make travelling at night much more convenient and safer for students. An obvious counterpoint to this claim is that the University already doesn’t have enough bus drivers, so where would they find the people to drive these vehicles? The answer is pretty simple: UMass needs to pay their drivers more. UMass not paying their employees enough is a large issue, and is no way isolated to bus drivers. What seems like every year, UMass admits its largest class in history and continues to try and fit more students into an already-cramped campus. With all of these new students, UMass is bound to have a couple of extra dollars lying around to pay their employees with.

One may argue that bus drivers at UMass are already being paid enough. Their starting wage of $18 an hour is the highest paid job offered to students at the university. This is indicative of a problem that runs much deeper than bus drivers. The highest paid job offered to students is only a couple dollars above the state’s minimum wage. Additionally, student workers are limited to only 20 hours a week during the academic year. This means a student has the potential to earn, at most, around $11,000 for the academic year. This is only 15.7% of the average salary of a UMass worker. Furthermore, Chancellor Subbaswamy earns a salary of approximately $502,000 per year; 791.7% higher than the average salary of a UMass employee and 4563.6% higher than the most a student can make as a bus driver. Given that Chancellor Subbaswamy is not even the highest paid employee at UMass, I think it’s safe to assume that the University should make it a priority to pay student workers more for their labor.

A lack of adequate public transport is an issue that affects all of America, not just UMass. The majority of the developed world has high-speed rail systems in place which provide citizens with an affordable option to travel long distances. It is unlikely we will ever see a system like this in America due to extensive lobbying from major airlines. Because of this, travelling is not a right, but becomes a privilege that is only available to the upper class.

This nationwide aversion to public transportation directly impacts students all over the country. UMass makes an effort to continue being a campus where anyone can have car and easily get around. Those without cars are told that they can easily walk wherever they need to go- unless their destination is too far, or it’s snowing, or the sidewalk are inaccessible due to a build-up of ice, or the temperature is in the negatives, which are all scenarios that occur quite frequently on the campus. These students without cars are forced to turn to the grossly inadequate PVTA system, and if it’s too late in the night, it may not even be available to them. UMass directly contributes to the notion that travelling is a privilege, instead of granting students the right they deserve.

In Atlanta, we have a small subway system that runs through the city called the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority or MARTA. This system has the potential to be much bigger, but none of the surrounding areas will allow MARTA to run in their town. This is because they’re afraid that having this affordable transportation option running from the city to the suburbs will cause homeless people to travel to their towns. This phenomenon is not isolated to Atlanta and is something we see in a number of major cities across America. This shows that this country’s aversion to public transportation is not all about profits—it also has to do with the stigma surrounding people who use these systems to get around.

Obviously, a high-speed rail system is not plausible for our university to implement, but there are a number of ways UMass could improve its public transportation. An implementation of a “Stingerette”-style system would allow for students to travel back to their dorms at night safely and conveniently. An influx of cash into the PVTA system would allow for more drivers, better working conditions and increased bus availability at night. UMass has a working public transportation system, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t steps that should be taken to improve it.

 

Zach Leach can be reached at [email protected]