The close of the 2006-07 academic term marks the end first year for the Miami Metro’s contract with Laidlaw Transit – and according to Laidlaw and Metro drivers, the year went relatively smoothly.
Carolyn Kelly, Laidlaw’s branch manager in Oxford, said that although the type of bus Miami uses is different than what she’s used to at other branches with Laidlaw, the transportation system did not see many difficulties this year.
“Overall, (the first year was) good,” Kelly said. “It was difficult in the beginning, because I was used to school buses, but I would say overall, things went well.”
Kelly also said all the drivers from the year before had returned despite the change at the beginning of fall semester in companies from Hamilton Tours to Laidlaw. She also said that the routes remained mainly the same, except for taking buses off College Avenue, after being instructed by the city of Oxford to avoid having buses running on cobblestone streets.
Yet according to Perry Gordon, the senior vice president of finance for parking and transportation services at Miami University, the Metro has seen some changes in ridership over the past year.
“Ridership through March 25 was down a little over 40 percent (from last year),” Gordon said.
Yet Gordon said he wasn’t positive if the change was part of a pattern.
“Although I don’t know if I could come up with a clear explanation, the logical explanation might be that people are riding their cars more,” Gordon said. “Off-campus permits are down 15 to 16 percent (from last year) too though, so it’s hard to tell. We had a mild winter and the weather in the earlier part of the year was good enough to walk in.”
Kelly said changes made this year include installing pull strings for stops and having air conditioning in the new buses.
Tom Hounshell, a driver for the Miami Metro since 2004 after working for Propipe Technologies as a supervisor for 20 years, said the transition to Laidlaw Transit went as expected.
“I wouldn’t say it’s easier now, just about the same,” Hounshell said. “I mean you just get on a bus and drive it – that’s it. The air (conditioning) sure makes a difference though.”
Despite the improvements Laidlaw made to the buses, many students continue to voice displeasure with the Miami Metro.
First-year zoology major Rich Guarnera said the buses are generally unreliable.
“It’s annoying that they don’t always stop and sometimes they drive by so fast that we don’t have a chance when we see it coming,” Guarnera said. “Sometimes we have to wait inside because of the weather. Maybe if (drivers) stopped for a minute or something at each stop there would be less complaints.”
According to Kelly, if nobody is standing at the stop, buses are not required to stop, except at the Ditmer lot and on Spring Street in front of the Shriver Center.
In addition, Kelly said, buses are required to stop at the Wells Mills Drive stop because it is a layover – meaning if buses are ahead or behind they get back on schedule with this stop.
Kelly said students don’t take into account a number of factors when riding the buses.
“(Complaints) are often about being late, and often they come as a result of someone being late (to an obligation),” Kelly said. “They don’t often take into account the traffic or the weather.”
Kelly explained there is a procedure for handling complaints.
“When complaints come, I call the driver and ask if there’s a problem,” Kelly said. “If I get continued calls (about a route) I go monitor it myself.
Kelly said the times posted on the signs are just a general idea of when the buses will come – sometimes they’re a little early, sometimes they’re a little late.
The issue of whether or not a bus runs on time depends on a number of factors, according to employees at the bus headquarters.
“The intersections outside of Laws (Hall) and Shriver (Center) at certain times of day have floods of kids walking everywhere, many times on cell phones and not paying attention, going very slowly, that can put buses five minutes behind (schedule),” Kelly said. “(Drivers) can (also) get behind when they need breaks (because) it’s not healthy to drive a route for seven straight hours without taking any breaks.”
Bus driver Tammy Loge, a driver since 2002, said drivers sometimes have to deal with unexpected events.
“We recover cell phones, wallets, and sometimes even have to break up fights,” Loge said.
Hounshell echoed those sentiments.
“I’ve had times though where I’ve had to go clean up after some messes on the bus left by students who had a bit to drink,” Hounshell said.
In regards to improvements, Laidlaw is considering only minor changes to the service for the immediate future.
“The only problem is the Blue route, which was reduced from a 25 minute route to 20 (minutes),” Kelly said. “We’re looking at making all routes 30 minutes so a bus will come every 15 minutes to each stop for students.”
Kelly maintained that this plan would not include using any more buses.
“We’re looking at expanding areas on some routes, covering new areas such as Campus (Avenue), where a bus only goes in one direction, we want one to go the other (as well),” Kelly said. “Nothing would happen before next year those are all things we are looking at for over the summer. The final decision would come from university (and not Laidlaw).”
Drivers say that the improvements Laidlaw has made recently have made a difference. “Back in the beginning of school, and once we get back this summer, those air conditioners sure are good,” Hounshell said. “… Sometimes students start to have a little bit of fun with those pull chains and I have to turn them off.”
He did, however, say that he greatly preferred having chains over the days where students had to yell.
Overall, Kelly said the new service has met with positive feedback “Students are generally appreciative of the service, it is only an occasional student who might be rude,” Kelly said.