When squash captain Paris Shan ’23 tried reaching out to the van coordinator at the Office of Student Engagement and Fleet (firstname.lastname@example.org) to book a van for the squash team, she was met with empty silence. During the 2020-2021 academic year, clubs at Swarthmore were more inactive than ever. Now, many are suffering the consequences, which include troubles with van certifications, bookings, and rentals for transportation. If a student wishes to book a van from the college, they must be van-certified through Public Safety. Because the college has not been certifying students in the past year, it is more difficult than ever to request a van for transportation.
In an interview with The Phoenix, Shan described her difficulties booking a van this semester.
“Starting in the summer we started sending emails to van certification people, who sent it to OSC and Pub Safe and to fleet [but] we haven’t really been getting any responses. There’s no response on their end. And so it just seems like we’re just talking to an empty wall,” she said.
In an interview with The Phoenix, Student Budget Committee Chair Kyle Lee ’22 explained that this academic year, the college signed a new lease with Enterprise but that this new lease has had little impact on the logistics of van rentals.
“When I checked out a van this year, it was similar to previous years where all of the vans are kept at the Ben West lot, are still marked with the Swarthmore logos, and keys are still kept in the Pub Safe office,” he said. “When OSE mentioned that they were switching to a contract with Enterprise, I suspect it may be a longer term contract where the vehicles are just left with the college and may be taken back to Enterprise for maintenance. For all intents and purposes, it still appears like the college has control of the vans.”
Despite many clubs’ troubles with van rentals this year, Lee explained that this has been a problem historically and attributed the cause to the low number of students who are van-certified.
“I would not say that checking out vans … is more difficult than in previous years. The challenge has always been the low number of students who get Swarthmore’s van certification and are eligible to take out vans in the first place.”
According to college policy, prior to receiving certification, students must fill out a form, contact Public Safety, complete an online training session about driving safety, and take an hour-long practical driving test alongside a Public Safety officer. In an interview with The Phoenix, Rivers Redclay ’23 described her experience getting van certified. Like Shan, Redclay was met with silence when she expressed interest in becoming a certified van driver to use a school-owned van for an event with the Swarthmore Indigenous Students Association.
“Well, I sent an email, actually several emails [to Public Safety], and was only replied to when I said that my club would not be able to go to an event without my certification. Then I booked a time and showed up [for my test],” she said. “It just takes forever to get an appointment unless you send an angry email … we ended up taking a train to our event [instead].”
The squash club, which has practices twice a week in Philadelphia, has similarly had to resort to taking the SEPTA train to practices. Shan explained that this process is difficult, expensive, and unreliable.
“I’m paying $7 dollars per person, and it actually adds up to be like more than one hundred dollars every day out of my own bank account, which is a little frustrating just because I know the reimbursement process is slow, and I don’t know if I’ll have enough money to keep paying for $100 worth of tickets every Tuesday and Thursday for the entire team to go just one way … It’s only like $10 in gas or something so it’s significantly more expensive to have to pay for all of the train tickets every practice,” she said.
Shan explained that the squash club struggled to book vans this year for various reasons, including the fact that many upperclassmen are international students who need a drivers’ license valid in the U.S., the year-long hiatus of van certifications, and the late start to the van certification process this year.
“Our club kind of died during the pandemic so we don’t have any upperclassmen right now. The upperclassmen are international [students] so we have not really the ability to get van certified and then also … in the summer [the college] wasn’t really on [the certification process] yet,” she said. “That means that when we started practices, no one had any reservations on this campus. We were looking into maybe even hiring someone but there’s still no one who’s certified.”
Some clubs have had less of an issue finding van drivers and booking vans for transportation. In an interview with The Phoenix, Motherpuckers ice hockey captain Quinn Okabayashi ’23 explained that Motherpuckers, which practices twice a week on Sundays and Thursdays, finds the vans useful and convenient for transportation to the skating rink in Springfield.
“We have a lot of people, first off, so they’re useful, more useful than [using people’s] cars, and also we have a bunch of gear like boots, and hockey sticks, that need to fit in there. And so they can just slide onto the seat of the van, which makes it very convenient,” he said.
Motherpuckers pick up and park their van in Ben West parking lot, which is located next to Cunningham fields. Some clubs, however, are required to rent non-college-owned vans from a third party.
This process is different from booking a college-owned van, which is free of charge (excluding tolls). Earthworms ultimate frisbee captain Adam Lloyd-Jones ’22 described the process for renting a van for the team to transport to tournaments as inconvenient.
“[Every year], we submit our budgets to the athletic department, and they have van rentals built into them … in terms of getting vans for the tournaments, those vans are rented from Bargain Van Rental through the athletics department,” he said.
Per college policy, “a driver can operate the van for up to 5 hours but is then required to rest for at least 5 hours. No driver can operate a van for longer than 10 hours in any 24-hour period.” Furthermore, college-owned vans cannot be operated for more than ten hours and trips must be no more than 300 miles round trip and a minimum of two nights. This means that many clubs, like the Ultimate Frisbee team, must rent vans for tournaments through Bargain Van Rental.
“The most annoying part of that process is organizing enough van drivers to go [to Brookhaven, where the Bargain Van Rental is located] to pick up and drop off the vans,” he shared.
For clubs that wish to book school-owned vans for practices and quick trips, Okabayashi recommends reaching out to Fleet repeatedly.
“Clubs that are trying to get vans should probably repeatedly poke at whoever’s in charge of the van system. Because usually Swarthmore will kind of delay things until students make them very urgent. Send more emails and try to be more proactive on getting them from whoever’s in charge of them,” he said.
Zaid Ali contributed to the reporting of this article.