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Keep the wheels running

Duke administrators have publicly cast into doubt the future of Duke’s relationship with the Bull City Connector, citing lower-than-expected ridership rates.

This is an overwrought response to a temporary—and fixable—problem. Given that the service began just two years ago, it is far too soon to declare the Bull City Connector a failure. But given that student ridership has disappointed thus far, we feel more can be done to encourage undergraduates to take advantage of this fantastic resource.

First, the bus should stop closer to where students live and spend time on campus. While current stops along the periphery of campus are a good start, the service would gain greater visibility if buses ventured further onto campus. Some potential new stops could include another stop on Swift Avenue closer to Campus Drive, somewhere closer to the Chapel Drive Circle, or other parts of campus accessible by bus.

Hours of service could be re-evaluated, too. We understand that keeping the bus operating past 12 a.m. (when Friday and Saturday service currently stops) would represent an added expense. But we feel confident that a bus that ran slightly later – perhaps till 2 am - would be far more useful to students, especially on weekend nights. This would serve the double purpose of increasing ridership and, more importantly, offering students a safe alternative to driving back to campus after going out. While these late-night hours might not immediately come to mind, those who frequent Main Street can speak to the need for a safe, cheap option. There is definite demand for a free shuttle service that would allow students to explore Durham’s nightlife—but it is only useful if it operates long enough to take students back and forth from campus.

Administrators should also keep in mind that even if undergraduate usage has been underwhelming, the bus has served an important purpose for University employees and other members of the community. Hospital employees should not be punished just because undergraduate ridership has lagged. By the same token, given that administrators themselves have stated that the service is exceeding its total daily ridership goal of 2,000, the push to consider altering the service so soon after it began strikes us as puzzling.

Nonetheless, we agree that more students could find value in using the service. A Duke Student Government video on how to ride the bus was a good start, but University and student leaders should continue spreading the word about the Bull City Connector in every way possible. Moreover, before cutting funding or altering service, the administration should survey undergraduates and other community members to assess why they are not using the service. We would bet that the factors listed above—location of bus stops, hours of service and a simple lack of awareness—play a large role.

We are not naive to the fact that keeping this partnership in place and marketing the service consumes valuable administrative resources and funding. But this is not the place to cut costs. Getting students to interact with Durham has been and must remain a top administrative priority, and the Bull City Connector can play a major role in facilitating the process. We caution administrators against prematurely waving the white flag.

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