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BERNSTEIN: New Rutgers bus system is primed for failure

Column: Mind You

While students are all excited to get back to campus, the altered bus schedule may end up becoming a logistical nightmare for all.  – Photo by Wikimedia.org

I am sure you have heard, by now, about Rutgers University's plans to restructure its bus system this upcoming fall. In an attempt "to provide more frequent bus service between each campus," the University is stripping down the number of bus stops from 32 to 10, reducing the number of routes on weekdays from nine to six.

Perhaps most daring of all, the University will cast off such cryptic naming conventions of bus routes as "REXL" and "H" in favor of primary and secondary colors (there is, of course, no "red" bus route — the chromatically interchangeable but phonetically dissimilar "scarlet" is preferred).

I appreciate what Rutgers is trying to accomplish here. Students speak of our dear school's transportation system using a rich body of varied and flavorful descriptors, only a few of which lack expletives considered verboten.

Long waits, routes resembling a Cy Twombly scribble and buses packed to obscene passenger densities are not the sorts of hallmarks of the campus experience of which alumni remember fondly.

And if Rutgers must flirt with a bus system of a different shape, perhaps there is no better time than during the Fall 2021 semester when half the student body will have no experience with, thus no curmudgeonly affection for, the oft-infuriating caprice of the LX nor the enigmatic workings of the REXB.

Then again, the last thing we need as we return to Rutgers in the (hopefully) final stages of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic is an infrastructural disaster. And while any current speculation about the efficiency of fall busing is just that — speculation, the quirks of the new system provide many opportunities for functional breakdown.

Take, for example, the routes for the College Avenue campus. Only one bus stop, the Yard @ College Avenue, will function for the entire campus, single-handedly managing traffic from all three other New Brunswick campuses.

While the striking of other bus stops on the College Avenue campus may increase the frequency of bus arrivals at the Yard, it should also ensure perpetual crowding there: Rather than face the headache of late buses, we will be forced to brave the stomach churns that accompany a chaotic mass of undergraduates violently jockeying for bus spots.

Picture the fiascos that could ensue on Thursday and Friday nights, when students flock to College Avenue for end-of-week partying.

I cannot imagine the state of the College Avenue campus' busing will be conducive to social distancing either, and while I hope that vaccine mandates allow for the relaxation of on-campus precautions, it seems rather backward to create more congestion around transportation.

Although the busing situation on the College Avenue campus stands out in its potential for dysfunction, routes on Cook, Douglass and Busch campuses are equally eyebrow-raising. Cook and Douglass campuses, despite their size, will only have three stops, both in the same general area.

As for Busch campus, only one stop will take students between Busch campus and Cook, Douglass and Livingston campuses, and the Busch-College Avenue route will only run in one direction (previously, Busch campus and the College Avenue campus had two routes connecting them, the A and H, and these routes ran in opposite directions).

When I asked my friend, a physics major and Honors College student (and therefore, a veteran of the Busch-College Avenue inter-campus commute), what he thought of the new bus system, he simply said "garbage." When I asked him to elaborate, he specified his assessment: "hot garbage."

While I am not sure I share the sentiment quite yet, I empathize with the cynicism that my friend and many other Rutgers students may be feeling about the prospects of painless transportation at Rutgers in the fall.

A fog of worry and tension already shrouds the upcoming semester: After a year away from college, most of us look forward to enriching on-campus experiences but are acutely aware of their fragility. Nobody wants dysfunctional busing to further taint our return to campus. 

I hope that the concerns I have raised here prove invalid. But it is important that Rutgers administrators remain receptive to student feedback this fall regarding the state of university transportation as well as regarding every other facet of campus life that COVID-19 has upended.

For my part, I am hopeful that the burdens of the upcoming semester will be outweighed by its fruits. But I am adding the purchase of a bicycle to my summer to-do list.

Daniel Bernstein is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in physics and mathematics. His column, "Mind You," runs on alternate Mondays.


*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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