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Rutgers bus system faces multiple failures during Thanksgiving break

During Thanksgiving break, University buses were out of service for a short period of time due to an error in the Rutgers bus tracking system and a driver shortage. – Photo by Rutgers.edu

Rutgers bus services faced issues during Thanksgiving break due to problems with bus tracking services and driver availability.

Zoltan Szekely, a biomedical researcher in the Molecular Design and Synthesis Department, said that the University planned to operate a single bus on the all-campus route that would arrive at each stop hourly from 3 a.m. on November 24 to 8 a.m. on November 26.

The Thanksgiving break bus schedule has since been removed from the Department of Transportation's website.

John Karakoglou, director of Transportation Services at Rutgers, said that holiday bus schedules are made using past ridership trends and projections for the current year.

During this past Thanksgiving break, the administration decided to operate one bus with drivers working 8-hour shifts. The Rutgers community would be able to track the bus via the Rutgers University app and the TransLoc app, which both rely on the TransLoc shuttle tracking system.

Karakoglou said that issues on Thanksgiving day arose when the system faced an outage and was unable to relay bus tracking information to the aforementioned apps. He said both the University and First Transit, a transportation company that operates Rutgers buses, are responsible for maintaining the app’s performance.

He said the University reported the issue to TransLoc once it was made aware of the issue and have since taken steps to avoid this from happening again.

Issues with the holiday bus schedules affected bus availability on Thanksgiving night into the following morning when a driver on the overnight shift was unavailable to perform their duties and the company was unable to replace them. 

"We already met with First Transit, our transit provider, and had discussions about how this cannot happen going forward and that they should have a backup driver available for these circumstances," Karakoglou said.

During these gaps in service, certain members of the Rutgers international student community helped each other reach their destinations. Szekely was one such individual.

Szekely said that on November 24, he attended a Thanksgiving dinner for international students and faculty on Busch campus. After the event, he said he could not use an app to track available buses and assumed that none were running.

Ultimately, Szekely said he drove four people home to multiple campuses because the buses seemed to be offline. Maarten Roose, a graduate student at Hasselt University in Belgium and intern at the Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation at Rutgers, was one of these people.

Roose said he met with Szekely while returning from the Thanksgiving dinner. Earlier that day, he had waited more than 30 minutes at The Yard @ College Avenue for a bus, receiving conflicting messages about buses' locations on both tracking apps. Roose said he eventually called an Uber.

In order to avoid these situations in the future, Szekely said there needs to be better and timely communication from the University about the bus service when classes are not in session or when issues arise.

He said that drivers should also be vigilant about ensuring the visibility of their vehicles on these apps, and Rutgers should consider having a full-campus bus at all hours of the year.

Additionally, Szekely said the University should be cognizant of the international student community at Rutgers and what it may need in order to navigate the campus area. Roose shared similar sentiments.

"I think there needs to be a minimum service, even during the breaks and the holidays," Roose said. "There are a lot of international students at Rutgers who are not able to use cars which makes them very reliant on the bus service from Rutgers."


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