After ending a 14-year contract for bus service with the local transit agency, the University of Akron oversees a six-route program with 12 cutaway buses.
The University of Akron in Ohio cut its long-term ties with the local transit system, Metro RTA, in the fall of 2007 and has embarked on an ambitious shuttle bus program that provides greater flexibility, control and coverage.
The shuttle service, called the Roo Express, was launched about a year ago with three buses, according to Jim Stafford, director of the university’s Parking Services department. For the 2008-09 school year, the program was expanded to 12 buses covering six routes.
Stafford said the contract with Metro RTA ended October 2007 and wasn’t renewed, mainly because of low ridership and lack of responsiveness on the part of the transit system. “The program kept shrinking and shrinking,” he said. “It ended up being one route and one bus.”
When the university asked the transit system to make changes to the route or to alter the stops, it would be a couple of weeks before the bus drivers responded accordingly. “Also, they were running 40-foot buses that were almost empty,” Stafford said. “I’d rather have a smaller bus that’s full.”
To that end, the university has purchased 26-passenger cutaway buses with perimeter seating for its shuttle service. Not only are they smaller than the city buses, they’re also branded as University of Akron buses, complete with the Roo Express name, Zippy the kangaroo mascot wrap on the hood and university color scheme.
“We felt like we needed to move forward with newer, branded buses because that would encourage students to ride,” said Jared Coleman, assistant director of Parking Services. Previously, the Metro RTA buses used for university service looked like any other Metro buses except that the header said “University.”
The cost of the new shuttle bus system is, of course, much higher than the single bus route covered by Metro RTA, but the university this fall implemented a $115 transportation fee that is added to the tuition of all students taking 6 or more credit hours.
The university contracts the operation and maintenance of the shuttle buses to Ampco System Parking for $34.59 per hour. “We’re very happy with the new service,” Stafford said. “We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback.”
Coleman said the Roo Express provided 70,000 rides in September and is on track for 250,000 rides this semester. “We’re light years ahead of what Metro was carrying,” he said.