Hoping to cut down on the number of students needing campus parking spots each day, Fresno State began a student shuttle service on Jan. 25 to take students living close-by a lift to campus.
The Bulldog Express is free for students, faculty and staff when they show their ID cards and will run Monday to Friday from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The buses seat 40 people, and have four seats in each row. One of the buses had a mechanical issue during the first week and a large van is temporarily being used in its place, said Abigail Hudson, president of Associated Students, Inc.
The cost for the shuttle will be $653,446.13 for three semesters, parking and transportation manager Tom Gaffery said.
The two shuttles run simultaneously along the route and will stop at Bulldog Lane, Millbrook Avenue, Campus Drive at North Gym, the Save Mart Center parking lot and Campus Pointe.
“It takes about a half-hour to complete a trip,” Gaffery said. “A bus comes to the stop every 15 minutes.”
Fresno State has been looking for a way to deal with the short supply of parking spots.
“I know that last year, even, it was something that had been discussed more casually that maybe a student shuttle would be an alternative to a parking structure,” Hudson said. “I’m sure you’re familiar with all the conversations that have gone on about a parking structure – it’s like $40 million to build it. It’s not really in the cards as an immediate solution.”
As of fall 2015, Fresno State has an enrollment of 24,136. The university believes that around 2,400 students living near the school could potentially be regular riders of the Bulldog Express.
“Our data shows that we’ve got in excess of 10 percent of our student population that live within a mile of campus,” Gaffery said.
University officials also hope that students driving to school and parking on campus can utilize the Bulldog Express.
“Parking at the Save Mart Center lot is fine, if you have classes on the east side of campus,” Gaffery said. “But sometimes, parking at the Save Mart Center lot and then having to be on the west side of campus – that’s a bit of a walk.”
In the next several months, Gaffery said the school hopes to add a feature to the Fresno State mobile application that would allow students to get real-time tracking of Bulldog Express shuttles along with estimates of stop arrivals.
Thuy Nguyen, a graduate student studying education, has enjoyed riding the shuttle the first week.
Nguyen noted that she once waited around an extra 10 minutes when the shuttle wasn’t on schedule but, “I like it anyway,” she said. Nguyen looks forward to being able to have real-time tracking for the buses.
Discussions for a shuttle became more serious around September 2015, Hudson said, and university officials determined the shuttle would be able to begin service in January.
During the end of the fall 2015 semester, Fresno State interviewed companies interested in operating the campus shuttle.
Ultimately, Chicago-based SP+ Transportation was picked to run the shuttle because of their experience in running other university shuttles and the speed at which they could begin service, Hudson said.
It took around four months from the time the university seriously considered a shuttle and having the shuttle in operation.
“Most of the companies that applied said they couldn’t do it by January, and that they’d want to start in the fall,” Hudson said. “But we knew that we wanted to offer it to students in January so we made sure it was a very quick turnaround. Fresno State President Dr. Joseph Castro really wanted it to be available in January.”
Under the arrangement with SP+ Transportation, the company will own the buses, hire and train drivers and take care of maintenance of the buses.
There are no estimated ridership numbers available for the first week but Hudson said she has been using the shuttle and has always had at least one person riding with her and up to as many as 10 other people.
Hudson said she expects more people will ride the Bulldog Express as they learn about the new shuttle.