Financial Woes Threaten Bike Shuttle

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UC Santa Cruz’s bike shuttle is on the proverbial chopping block. The shuttle, which ferries riders and their bikes up Bay Street to campus from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., could be cut in the next academic year due to the financial strain it puts on the university’s fiscally struggling Transportation and Parking Service (TAPS).

Each bike shuttle ride costs four times more per rider than other TAPS shuttles, averaging $5.03 per ride during the 2014-15 academic year, according to a TAPS fiscal report. During the 2014-15 school year, 43,219 people rode the shuttle — $217,392 in total operation costs.

The bike shuttle costs more per rider because it carries fewer passengers than metro and campus loop buses. The shuttle is full when driving up Bay Street, remaining empty on its return journey to gather more riders.

“The cost has grown, the demand has grown,” said TAPS director of 19 years and UCSC alumnus Larry Pageler. “And we haven’t had a parking fee increase in nine years.”

In the past, the bike shuttle was funded by TAPS’s parking and programs budget, Pageler said. But now, the parking and programs fund can’t fit the bill. This fund faced a $244,605 debt, which led TAPS to use the Student Transit Fee to help fund the bike shuttle last year. Each student pays a transportation fee of $335 per year, which goes into the student transit budget. This budget has been in deficit for 16 of the last 17 years, reaching $2.5 million last year.

While the bike shuttle is safe this academic year, it might be inoperable in the near future, Pageler said. The bike shuttle could be saved by one of two options — an increase in parking fees to offset the cost or a separate fee for riders.

Changing parking fees requires UCSC Chancellor George Blumenthal’s approval and public input from the academic senate and the Student Union Assembly (SUA). Last year, TAPS proposed increased parking fees but they weren’t implemented. Despite this, TAPS will seek a parking fee increase for the 2016-17 academic year, Pageler said.

Even if TAPS convinces Blumenthal to increase parking fees, they’ll likely face opposition from students. Last April, SUA passed a resolution “condemning the increase of any and all parking prices,” noting the fees are already at an “extreme high.”

“Increasing parking fees might save the bike shuttle for a brief period of time, but it’s not a long-term solution,” said SUA President Julie Foster, who once served on UCSC’s Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC). “Things aren’t going to get better. The cost of fossil fuels are going to keep going up.”

Even with increased parking fees, the bike shuttle remains at risk of cancellation. As of now, TAPS can’t say for certain whether the money gained from increased parking fees would save the shuttle.

“Last year in October, we were awarded a bike friendly campus award from the American League of Cyclists,” Foster said. “We might not get that award renewed if we don’t have the bike shuttle.”

Another option TAPS considered is the introduction of a per-ride or quarterly fare for bike shuttle riders. In winter 2015, TAPS conducted a survey gauging whether bike shuttle riders were willing to pay a bike shuttle fare. Over 50 percent of the respondents said they didn’t want to pay a $1.50 to $2.00 charge, or a $40 quarterly fee.

Since the bike shuttle costs $5.03 per ride, these small charges wouldn’t cover half of the expenses. Additionally, a bike shuttle fee might reduce ridership, Pageler said. Even if lack of money brings about the bike shuttle’s cancellation, the van and its equipment will stay on campus and could be revived if TAPS’s finances improve.

Rachael Babel, an undergraduate student who rides the bike shuttle everyday, said raising parking fees to save the shuttle is unfair, and believes a bike shuttle fee is the best of the two options.

“I would be very upset if that were to happen because that’s my main mode of transportation everyday,” Babel said. “There are not enough buses to compensate everyone who wants to bring their bikes.”