Growing pains at University of California, Merced

Posted on May 25, 2009

[IMAGE]MercedBus-full.jpg[/IMAGE]First Lady Michelle Obama’s recent commencement speech at the University of California, Merced, provided the 4-year-old campus with inspiration, encouragement and national media coverage. Approximately 12,000 people attended the ceremony for the university’s inaugural graduating class of 350.

But growing pains still plague the university’s transportation and parking operation, which has been cramped by a tight budget, higher costs and rising demand for bus services.

Karin Groth, manager of Transportation, Parking and Fleet Services, said some of the budget pressure will be alleviated next school year, when student transportation fees will jump from $70 to $175 per year. “It will definitely help, but we still have a long way to go,” Groth said, adding that she currently operates with an annual $800,000 budget.

The university’s bus service, CatTracks, is outsourced to a local company called VIA Adventures. It covers six routes with six buses — four 19-passenger buses and two 48-passenger buses.

The larger buses are powered by CNG, while the smaller ones run on diesel. Groth said she has been in discussions with the contractor to switch to hybrid-powered buses at some point in the future.

Groth said annual ridership is approximately 40,000, but is growing. “We need to add more lines, and we need to do more than we’re currently doing to provide transportation alternatives to students,” she said. A line was added last year to meet the needs of off-campus students and to help deliver students to the local Amtrak station.

Groth is hoping to hire a fleet transit coordinator who can assist with marketing and grants research. That will free her up to handle other responsibilities. “There’s a lot to be done here,” she said.

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