CLARIFICATION: The bus route will provide access to a range of students. This article has since been changed to reflect this clarification.
Grocery runs are rarely a simple venture for car-less students who have to lug heavy bags to far-off bus stops or even wait hours if they miss the bus altogether.
But students soon will have a source of relief from their food shopping struggles, at least until the end of the semester. After two students mentioned the inconvenience of using public transportation when grocery shopping through a post on the What to Fix UMD Facebook page, the Student Government Association voted to launch a weekend shuttle program that will connect several areas of the campus with the Beltway Plaza in Greenbelt, a shopping center featuring a Giant and a Target.
The SGA’s legislative reserves will finance the program’s approximate $2,900 cost, which, according to the Department of Transportation Services, will fund a driver, fuel and one hour of pre- and post-operation maintenance each day, said Ryan Heisinger, SGA academic affairs vice president. However, DOTS Director David Allen said a regular weekend shuttle service will not be feasible without increasing the student transportation fee.
“The SGA needs to figure out if they want that fee to be increased,” he said.
A slightly larger fee would be a reasonable price to pay in exchange for a regular weekend shuttle service to grocery stores, several students said.
“This can be very beneficial to students,” said Maddy Lyon, a sophomore communication major who lived in University View her freshman year. Lyon said she often ordered food online because there was no easier way to buy it.
Several members of the SGA — which runs the WTF UMD page — had agreed students lacked access to grocery stores, prompting them to meet with DOTS to find a solution, Heisinger said. The temporary shuttle bus, chartered by DOTS, will service South Campus Commons, the View, Courtyards and The Varsity each Saturday and Sunday for the next four weekends between noon and 4 p.m. Each loop will take roughly 40 minutes, said Matthew Popkin, SGA speaker of the legislature.
The SGA chose the specific bus stops based on student feedback, and they are spread throughout the campus and surrounding area to ensure a range of students have access, he added.
Although DOTS will not include the arrival times for each location in its NextBus service, the SGA plans to use social media to publicize the bus schedule, making it easy for students to plan their trips, Popkin said. As of last night, the post announcing the shuttle on the WTF UMD Facebook page had garnered more than 220 “likes,” while the page itself has more than 2,200.
Madison Groenings, a sophomore communication major, said as Hagerstown Hall resident, she did not like eating in the dining halls or shopping at stores on the campus, which offer far pricier items than stores off the campus. A shuttle to Giant would have enabled her to buy fresh foods easily, she said.
However, some students said the new program is unnecessary because DOTS already provides shuttle services to stores off the campus. During the week, the 110 bus, which travels from Regents Drive to the Seven Springs Village apartments, stops at the Shoppers store on Cherry Hill Road and MOM’s Organic Market on Rhode Island Avenue. On Saturdays, the 133 line serves Prince George’s Plaza, which has a Target.
But none of these options help students who have to carry their purchases from the bus stop at Stamp Student Union to their South Campus Commons apartment, Heisinger said, adding the SGA launched the program to explore whether there is a need for a long-term solution. The SGA plans to survey riders and keep track of ridership for its eight days of service.
The SGA will work to find a sustainable source of funding if the pilot program proves the necessity of a permanent weekend grocery shuttle, Heisinger said. However, he added DOTS could help fund a similar shuttle if it cut other “unnecessary” expenses — specifically, he cited DOTS’ “Why I Ride” campaign, a video contest that offers the winning student, faculty or staff member the equivalent of one semester of in-state tuition. An SGA bill on this week’s agenda condemns that initiative, which Heisinger said is a waste of the department’s limited funds.
“There are much better ways to use [DOTS] funding than just throw money into marketing initiatives,” Heisinger said. “That money can be used for services that are useful for all students.”