By Kayla Harding
LOGAN–Employees at USU Parking and Transportation are taking steps toward sustaining the Aggie Shuttle with a granted increase of $4.84 per student per semester next year, enabling them to buy two new buses.
James Nye, assistant director of Parking and Transportation, and Alden Erickson, Aggie Shuttle spervisor, both boast that the shuttle system is the best there is on the budget they have. Aggie Shuttle had originally asked for a $10.02 per student increase.
“Any increase is progress. We were hoping that they would catch the vision that we are looking long term as a business, we are looking at a five year business plan,” Nye said. “That is one of the weaknesses of the university itself, is that they look year to year, instead of having a long term plan.”
About six years ago, Erickson said, when Aggie Shuttle went to the student fee committee, the committee gave them 50 cents more than they asked for, requesting Aggie Shuttle update the fleet to be safer and more reliable.
Aggie Shuttle then signed a contract with the state to lease four buses in 1999. In the years to come, the state continually extending that lease beyond the reasonable life of the buses. Erickson said the state told Aggie Shuttle last November that they had to buy the buses because they didn’t want to take care of the repairs either. The alternative was that the state would take the four buses away from USU.
“Take away half of a bus system, then people really get upset. So we were forced into buying those buses; and those buses needed a lot of repair, and they are still warn out,” Erickson said. “It basically took our whole replacement program and set it back a couple years.”
Erickson explained Aggie Shuttle feels it’s necessary to be replacing two buses a year, at the end of five years then all 10 buses will be replaced and they would start the process over again; getting rid of two buses and picking up two buses every year.
Nye said, “We’re not adding to our fleet, we’re not adding to our service, it’s just maintaining the service we currently offer.”
According to Nye and Erickson, Aggie Shuttle will be going back next year to ask for a fee increase. Once buses are worn out and no longer serviceable, they plan to cut routes if requested increases aren’t granted and the program can’t afford to cover the costs to be safe and reliable.
Nye mentioned the engines in most of the buses are no longer available, and a new engine can cost more than $40,000 on close to a $300,000 a year budget. Brakes, chassis, frames and steering, Erickson added, are all stressed by the many passengers that ride Aggie Shuttle day after day.
Finding parts for an engine no longer manufactured could keep buses broken down longer and cost more when parts are harder to come by come. Erickson said, “Maintenance is a huge concern in the bus industry.”
Nye mentioned in an article in the Statesman that some members of the fee committee didn’t have a total understanding of the shuttle system. ”They can’t come down and look at your operation, they can’t look at your budgets,” Nye said.
“I think what they wanted was increased service, and we’re trying to upgrade our buses to maintain the same service that we have. We couldn’t seem to get that across. James Morales says we didn’t come at all prepared for that question. We answered it several times. It simply was not what the students wanted at that point,” Nye said.
According to Nye, industry standard is to have a couple buses in reserve for emergencies. “We use those buses for charters as well. Thirty percent of our budget comes from charters and advertising. If we don’t have those two buses we don’t make up that 30 percent,” Nye said.
If USU didn’t have the charter system, Erickson added, there would be a lot of courses where you wouldn’t be able to go on field trips and be onsite.
The proposal given to the committee was averaged over five years. Aggie Shuttle received the funds for the first year.
Erickson said,”Now we’ve got to average it over four years. So what we’re going to ask for next year to be able to handle this, will probably be more than what we asked for this year.”