Since the start of this semester, students have enjoyed the two new Garnet shuttles, which were introduced to better accommodate riders with handicaps. The vans are larger and more spacious, with aisles, fifteen reclinable seats, wide entrance doors, and non-slip entry steps.
Public Safety runs the Garnet Shuttle and was involved in the process of changing the shuttles. Sam Smemo, Associate Director of Public Safety, described over email why the vehicles needed an upgrade.
“A number of staff members from Public Safety, Office of Student Engagement, Finance, Business Office and Facilities recognized the passenger vans were no longer completely meeting the needs of our students, including students with accessibility needs,” he wrote. “We certainly knew the shuttle vans were outdated and provided a less than perfect rider experience.”
He stressed the staff’s goal of better accommodating their services for the needs of students with physical handicaps.
“Although we had a handicapped accessible van available upon request, the vans used for the Garnet shuttle were not equally accessible. We are striving to make transportation services provided by the college accessible at all times when in operation.”
Smemo said the staff planned to have the new shuttles in use at the start of the spring semester. Public Safety officers and shuttle drivers received training on operating the new shuttles and their handicap lifts.
Shuttle driver for Public Safety Robert Bennett finds the new vehicles to be an overall improvement for their increased accessibility and comfortable seating.
“Everybody can be accommodated,” he said. “It’s a lot more comfortable getting in and out. All the students love it.”
Many students who live far from the main campus especially appreciate the upgrade, as they frequently rely on the shuttles to travel back and forth to classes. Shivani Gupta ‘19 lives in Mary Lyon and uses the shuttle almost every day.
“It was very crowded,” she described the former shuttles. “[Now] they’re much better. We don’t have to climb over each other. It’s more comfortable and makes the experience better.”
Gupta explained that particularly in the mornings, when students are heading to class, catching a spot in the shuttle was not guaranteed on first try. The new vans, a larger number of seats can transport more students per trip.
The new shuttles arrived in time for the coldest months of the school year, when students are more inclined to take the shuttle to avoid walking through frigid temperatures. Bennett calls these seasonal passengers his “fairweather riders.”
May Dong ‘18, who lives in Roberts, is one such rider pleased by the improved riding experience.
“If it’s really cold sometimes I’ll take the shuttle. [Riding the upgraded shuttles] is a very pleasant experience. I would recommend,” She said. “Also you don’t have to clamber awkwardly over people to get a spot.”
Alli Wong ‘17 lives on the main campus and does not need the shuttles often, but still appreciates the vans’ upgraded features.
“I thought it was very nice and better than my previous experiences with the ML shuttle. I feel more inclined to take it now.”
Along with providing a more comfortable ride, Smemo also pointed out the numerous additional safety features, such as emergency exit lighting on the floor and sides.
“Several emergency escape windows, a fire extinguisher and two first aid kits are built into each shuttle. The wheelchair lift will not operate unless the emergency brake is on and the lift can be raised or lowered manually if the electrical unit is ever not functioning correctly,” he said. “We just successfully used this manual feature during the recent snowstorm.”
Smemo emphasized that Public Safety has been collaborating on others ways to improve the Garnet shuttle service. He discussed, for example, the creation of an app called Rider last spring that informs students of the location of each shuttle, an estimated time of when one will arrive at a student’s location, and announces any delays or interruptions.
Feedback on the shuttles to Public Safety has been positive from students and drivers alike.
“It’s more modern and more convenient,” Bennett said. “Over the long haul this is going to be a good improvement for the school.”