Planned elimination of the intercampus shuttle

The issue

Updated December 12th, 2019. The issue has evolved over time. For earlier descriptions of the issue, see the archive.

  • UC Davis has operated an intercampus shuttle between its Davis and Sacramento campuses for over 30 years. Many riders have shaped their lives around the service in its current form, e.g., buying homes, setting up childcare and school enrollment, and organizing two working parent schedules.
  • The current intercampus shuttle service is well-used and well-liked. Positive aspects include: efficient and direct campus-to-campus route, high capacity for riders (60+) and bicycles (12), comfortable seats that allow for productivity and rest, seatbelts, and low cost.
  • UC Davis is planning to eliminate the intercampus shuttle (effective April 2020) and is directing intercampus commuters to a new Yolobus/SacRT public transit line. The new line will not be managed or controlled by UC Davis.
  • The UC Davis administration did not investigate the needs and priorities of existing intercampus commuters prior to deciding that the public transit route would be a suitable substitute for the intercampus shuttle.
  • Intercampus commuters have worked directly with the transit agencies responsible for the new route (particularly SacRT), and the agencies have made substantial changes to the original plans in order to better serve the needs of intercampus commuters. The agencies have increased the frequency of service and have added express buses. Despite riders’ repeated outreach to UC Davis, these improvements were only achieved by riders reaching out directly to SacRT.
  • The new service still has several major shortcomings compared with the existing service. The buses will lack seatbelts and the express service will have reduced capacity for bikes.
  • Although it has recently expressed greater interest in listening to riders’ needs, UC Davis has still failed to make a formal commitment to maintain direct intercampus connectivity in the long term. It will have little control over the new public transit route, and if the route is discontinued after its 3-year trial period, intercampus commuters may be left without a transit option.

Path To Yes!

At the Nov. 18th SacRT and YCTD board meetings, the SacRT board instructed their staff to work with the current ridership to find out what a “Path To Yes” (i.e., a minimum acceptable transit service) would be by the Dec. 9th, 2019 board meeting. Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg also reached out to the riders via Julia Burrows to work with us.

On Nov. 22nd the “Across the Causeway Transit Riders Collective” released their “Path To Yes” vision to SacRT, YCTD, Mayor Steinber, and UC Davis. You can view this vision in the:

Path to Yes Document

Media coverage

Official Information From Involved Agencies

Social Media #ucdshuttle

Personal stories

Read personal stories about the importance of the shuttle in riders’ lives.

Endorsements

Intercampus commuters’ demands of the UCD administration have been endorsed by multiple groups:

Fact-checking UCD’s claims

Fact checks last updated Dec 12th, 2019. As the plans have changed over time, so has the fact-checking. Fact-checks from earlier periods can be accessed in the archive.

Reasons for the change

Claim: The bus services are changing because ridership in recent years has been in decline [1].
Fact: The data used to justify the shuttle cancellation is flawed:

  • The planners have reported on ridership data gathered by headcounts provided by the charter bus service. However, more careful analysis indicates that the dataset is incomplete. By contrast, long-time riders have reported that ridership has steadily increased.
  • The planners are estimating current and future revenue from flawed back-of-the-envelope calculations rather than using real ticket sales. Their calculations of current ticket sales estimate $3.50 in sales per bus (1-2 riders), which is likely off by an order of magnitude.
  • The planners have yet to collate, analyze, and/or provide data collected on ticket sales through TAPS and the cashier’s office.

In the town hall meetings, Mr. Dulcich acknowledged the new transit line is justified by inaccurate ridership and revenue values.

Claim: UCD cannot afford to keep the current shuttle line.
Fact: At all four of the Nov 6 and 7 town hall meetings, no budget hardline was provided that indicated that UCD could not afford the current shuttle line. One simple solution that has yet to be explored is to retain the current shuttle system and sell tickets to the general public to offset the costs. Mr. Dulcich responded that it’s an “interesting point”.

Claim: The new bus line will save us money and make the university “recession proof.”
Fact: According to Mr. Dulcich during the Nov 7 town hall meeting, UCD plans to contribute the same monetary amount toward the operation of the new public bus line, thus not resulting in any saving.

Features of the new buses

Claim: New buses will be attractive and preferred for the active users.
Fact: The ridership has expressed major reservations with the proposed changes, as can be seen in the open letter sent to decision makers like Chancellor May and published on this website. Within the first week, the open letter has been signed by > 558 people. Preferences of the active users have largely been neglected with no polling that explicitly lays out route and schedule options. At one of the town hall meetings on November 6th, 2019, the ridership requested to be polled and were told that we will hear by November 15th, 2019 about the option to do a poll. No polling option was presented. Recent improvements to the planned schedule were only achieved by riders reaching out directly to SacRT.

Claim: The new buses will not have seatbelts because it’s normal to not have them.
Fact: In 2006, a UC Davis shuttle bus flipped over on Highway 50 traveling at 65 mph, sending 20 passengers and the driver to the hospital [2,3]. There were no seatbelts on the bus, but UCD responded by making sure the current ones do. The lessons of the past cannot be forgotten.

Claim: There are enough buses during the peak-commute hours to accommodate the demand for bike rack space.
Fact: Recent internal surveys show that 75% of the buses had more than 3 bikes on board; at peak commutes, they often have 8 bikes, and they used to have more than 8 before the current cap of 8 was instituted. Riders will not reliably be able to bring their bikes between campuses. We will need to pay for a second bike and leave one on each campus, which can cost an additional $20/month for secure parking on each side, according to the plan explained by Mr. Dulcich at an October Causeway Connection town hall meeting.

UC Davis’ commitment to its stakeholders

Claim: The new transit line is here to serve UC Davis affiliates.
Fact: The new line will be 100% owned by Yolobus and SacRT [4] and understandably, it is in their best interest to serve the greater community and not UC Davis affiliates. Mr. Dulcich said UC Davis will be able to monitor how much UCD affiliates are utilizing the new transit line by analyzing ticket sales.  However, SacRT, which will sell the Causeway Connection tickets, will have no means to distinguish UCD-affiliate ticket sales from general public ticket sales. Despite riders’ repeated outreach to UC Davis about problems with the proposed route and schedule, recent improvements to the planned schedule were only achieved by riders reaching out directly to SacRT.

Claim: The UCD leadership is involving their stakeholders.
Fact: The Electrify America grant funding the bus purchases was awarded in June 2018, indicating that these decisions have been in the works for at least 2 years. None of the committee planning meetings thus far have had a shuttle riding representative present, nor were any informational sessions scheduled until shuttle riders repeatedly demanded them. At multiple times in the past when shuttle riders suspected new decisions had been made, riders had to send repeated requests for information and updates before any meaningful response was received.

References

1 – https://theaggie.org/2019/10/31/long-running-intercampus-shuttle-to-be-replaced-with-public-electric-bus-service-leaving-many-riders-frustrated/
2 – https://www.ucdavis.edu/news/uc-davis-shuttle-bus-accident/
3 – https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/SACRAMENTO-UC-Davis-bus-crash-hurts-20-halts-2465968.php
4 – https://www.sacrt.com/apps/wp-content/uploads/TitleVI-Med-Center-Draft-2019-10-14.pdf

Voice your concerns

The UCD administration has implied that they view the open letter (signed by > 500 people) as representing the opinions of only a few people. It is important to show them they are wrong by submitting individual responses via the options below:

  • Yolobus is collecting rider feedback:
  • Social media: use hashtag #ucdshuttle when you post

 

Shuttle riders’ statement (published October 31, 2019)

Below the statement is a list of signatories. Intercampus commuters may sign the letter here.

———

An open letter regarding the planned intercampus shuttle elimination

We are the UC Davis Intercampus Shuttle riders, and we write to express our deep disagreement with the proposed cancellation of the intercampus shuttle service. The University created the shuttle as a campus-to-campus transit option to serve its employees and students. Now it has decided to eliminate the approximately 30-year service. Intercampus commuters are being forced, with no say in the matter, into a new and vastly less appealing service that is not managed by UC Davis.

We are disturbed by the University’s exclusion of the current ridership from any meaningful planning decisions. We firmly request that the shuttle be retained in its current form. Many of us, from students to staff to professors, will revert to driving due to the change, putting the proposed changes in conflict with the university’s sustainability and zero emissions objectives as well as the intent of the Volkswagen emission scandal settlement funds. Some may even terminate UCD employment due to the changes because they have already made residence-to-work plans around the shuttle service.

The new Yolobus/SacRT public transit line is a major improvement for the broader community, but it is not a suitable substitute for the intercampus shuttle. UC Davis leadership’s cancellation of the shuttle is a disturbing rejection of the UCD Principles of Community and its duties to serve its diverse community, especially given its recently renewed commitments to expand its community partnerships in relation to the Aggie Square initiative.

History

The UC Davis Intercampus Shuttle has served the UCD employees, faculty, students, volunteers, and patients for over 30 years. The growth of the medical center campus spurred the need for a reliable transit service to connect the two locations through the 20 mile separation. This service has become an integral part of hundreds of riders’ lives. Many riders have made large personal decisions to rent and buy homes near the bus stops, to organize childcare and schooling, to not own a car or own fewer cars, to accept and to remain at UCD jobs, and to support families with jobs in both cities. The best estimates show that some 400+ rides occur each day, and the riders have only observed the shuttle getting more popular over the last decade. The service provides a safe, comfortable, and reliable shuttle that makes the causeway commute as tolerable as possible given the current transportation options.

The shuttle serves a unique population. Facilities staff often take the earliest 5:30 am buses, 9-5 staff ride in peak commute hours, and faculty who have positions spanning the two campuses use it to get to meetings. UC Davis personnel can live in affordable housing and still work at UCD, and medical patients living in Davis have access to the services in Sacramento. Affiliates who cannot drive, along with student medical and government interns, are able to use the service for half-day commutes and more.

A broad spectrum of UCD affiliates choose to take the shuttle for a variety of reasons, all of which are important to their lives. Many have structured their lives around the service as it is and has been for three decades or more, solidifying it as a known constant in the ridership’s lives.

Why we ride the shuttle

If asked, the current riders will mention many different aspects that make the shuttle service, in its current form, a positive commuting experience. The combination of the low cost and the rapid end-to-end commute time are likely the most valued features. The bus travel time is 25 minutes at its best, but the 1.5 hour-long commute on the worst peak hour transits is tolerable because of the direct route between the Davis and Sacramento campuses. The current cost of $45/month or $1.50/ride is significantly cheaper than any combination of other services suitable for a 20 mile commute: public bus, light rail, Amtrak, and personal automobile.

The shuttle starts at 5:30AM and operates until 9:00PM, allowing riders who work early to use transit  as well as those who work late or need to stay in the respective city past work hours. Riders can work, sleep, read, and chat on the commute with the dedicated comfortable seats that recline and that have lighting and power outlets for each person. This opportunity for work and/or rest provides major benefits for productivity and happiness. Happiness is known to be a significant factor in choosing how to commute and where to work.

The popularity of bringing bicycles on-board the bus is huge. The current buses have carried up to 12 or 13 bicycles in the cargo bays over the last 3 years. Riders love how this allows them to solve the “last mile” problem on each end of the transit service. We are certain if more bicycle spots were available they would quickly be filled.

The shuttle also helps address the problem of limited and expensive housing in Davis by providing a fast and direct connection to an area of Sacramento with relatively affordable housing. Conversely, Davis residents that commute to Sacramento can take advantage of living in a small family-friendly town and avoid commuting through Sacarmento’s core. The bus is a private service and thus riders avoid many of the issues users endure in public services (e.g. noise, safety, cleanliness, discomfort, and multiple stops).

In the spirit of the UCD Principles of Community, regular shuttle riders have built strong  relationships. Many of us met each other on the bus and now share experiences both at work and outside of work.

Why this will put more cars on the road

As we understand from the limited provided information, a new public transit route will be initiated when our shuttle service is terminated. The proposed SacRT/Yolobus route will introduce 4 additional stops between the current direct connection, raising the best commute times to a minimum of 50 minutes (from 25 minutes) and the worst to 2 hours. The proposed inclusion of one 30-seat express bus per hour during peak commute times does not adequately address this problem because (a) nearly all current shuttle riders would need the express service and (b) it is not planned to run during off-peak times. The elimination of two of the three campus stops will force those riders to walk further; for as long as 25 minutes.

Further, the planned 6AM to 7PM operation window eliminates 2.5 hours of service daily, cutting out the early morning employees and those that need to stay late and conflicting with evening class periods. The buses have half the number of seats as the current buses and many riders will be forced to stand for the duration of the commute or miss the desired bus. The bus will no longer provide a comfortable atmosphere for working or resting to maximize our productivity as students and employees. The bus will lack seatbelts, a major safety oversight given the high speeds and traffic on the causeway.

Costs are stated to rise for most riders. For example, UCD employee and graduate student costs will increase from $45 to $70 per month, although we understand UCD Health employees costs will decrease from $45 to $35 per month. For less frequent riders (< 30-40 rides per month) who rely on day-of single ride purchases, costs will increase by 70%. The increases amount to $300-$500 more annually for regular riders. Daily riders riding less than 30-40 rides per month would not save any money by purchasing the monthly pass, as is possible now.

The buses will carry 10 fewer bicycles than they currently are capable of, and riders will have to purchase a second bicycle and pay an additional $20/month to use the secured bicycle parking on each end.

The route between Sacramento and Davis/UC Davis is already covered by multiple express/commuter transit options (Amtrak and the Yolobus 43, 43R, 44, 230, and 232). The fact that shuttle riders do not use them is strong testament to the fact that they would also not use the new public transit route. Many riders say that the current shuttle is only marginally slower than driving, and they prefer the shuttle because it allows them to be productive during the commute. It will be difficult to be productive on a transit-style bus with multiple stops, making the substantially increased commute time of the new service even less tolerable.

UCD leadership must recognize that shuttle riders represent a unique transit demographic. Riders cannot be expected to simply switch to the next-best public transit option.  Eliminating the UCD intercampus shuttle will cause a large number of current riders to return to the environmentally, socially, and economically damaging use of personal automobiles across the causeway.

UCD has excluded intercampus commuters from planning and decisions

We believe that UC Davis has a sincere interest in addressing faculty, staff, and student needs with its transportation services. We are writing this letter to convey our transportation needs because we do not believe that they have been adequately considered yet.

A likely reason why the proposed public transportation alternative does not meet commuter needs is that the planners have thus far demonstrated highly unsatisfactory communication and engagement with us. Until October 29, we had not received any communications about the shuttle service changes, including when requested directly and repeatedly over three months. Integrated cross-campus communication on parking and transportation issues has been essentially nonexistent for years. Riders have had to develop and manage our own listserve to effectively advocate our input.

Those who attended the open houses were explicitly told by UCD and other project staff that the planners were uninterested in surveying users to learn more about their needs. Planners focused on justifying already-made decisions and brushed off numerous rider suggestions and requests. It was clear that the administration considered most decisions finalized and/or under the purview of Yolobus/SacRT rather than UC Davis.

UCD’s obligation to its community

We rely on UC Davis leaders to uphold our Principles of Community’s values of environmental sustainability, diversity, inclusion, and service. UC Davis’ decision to cancel the intercampus shuttle, and its exclusion of stakeholders from the planning process, have caused us to question  leadership’s commitment to these values.

The fact that the UCD planners view the new SacRT/Yolobus route as a suitable substitute for UCD’s shuttle service reflects a troubling detachment of UC Davis leadership from its stakeholders’ needs and a questionable vision for environmental stewardship, workplace quality, and community service.

Careful consideration of the impacts and external perceptions of its decisions is important now more than ever as UC Davis seeks to forge new relationships, attract collaborators, and generally strengthen its presence in Sacramento through the Aggie Square initiative. UC Davis has cleverly capitalized on the new Yolobus/SacRT electric bus service and has framed the VW scandal-funded service as an example of its own innovation. However, long-term connectivity between the Davis and Sacramento campuses is going to be dependent on actual commuters’ needs rather than short-term publicity and flashy optics. We believe that UC Davis is capable of innovation without alienating its diverse student body, employees, and neighbors — and that this is infinitely more likely with adequate dialogue and stakeholder engagement.

Conclusion and vision for the future

A careful examination of the needs of intercampus commuters reveals that

  • the current intercampus shuttle service is well-liked, well-used, and highly effective, and
  • the new SacRT/Yolobus route, while certainly a major improvement for the broader community, emphasizes UCD-Downtown connectivity rather than an efficient and comfortable commute between UCD campuses.

UC Davis leaders currently seem to be operating as if current intercampus shuttle riders will readily switch to the new Yolobus/SacRT service. In reality, the increased commute time, reduced capacity (person and bike), and reduced comfort will lead many current shuttle riders to revert to driving themselves rather than switching to the new public transit line.

Our request to UC Davis is as follows:

1. Retain the intercampus shuttle in its current form alongside the new Yolobus/SacRT line

As daily and near-daily commuters between Davis and Sacramento, we can attest that these lines serve completely different user groups: the intercampus line focuses getting UCD students and employees between campuses and from residential areas to their workplaces, whereas the Yolobus/SacRT line connects businesses and institutions. We are confident that retaining both lines will lead to improved transit for a much larger number of people.

2. Include shuttle-riding stakeholders in any decision-making surrounding the intercampus shuttle

We have been shut out of all meaningful decision-making thus far. Many consequential and irreversible decisions were made before ever consulting riders, and current outreach sessions appear intended to placate riders rather than to meaningfully address their concerns. We therefore suggest a mechanism that ensures that riders’ needs are meaningfully addressed: official voting power in planning decisions and membership on the Administrative Advisory Committee for Transportation. We are a diverse group with the collective knowledge, experience, and intelligence that can only help make transit better for the University’s students and employees.

The ridership wants to see a future that offers:

  • Abundant, frequent, fast, and affordable mass transit options that connect Davis and the Sacramento region
  • Less traffic congestion, fewer single occupancy vehicles, dedicated bus lanes, light rail connections that span cities, and less pollution
  • Opportunities to live where we want and need to live
  • Simply happier commuters

There are possible changes to our beloved shuttle service that would be major positive gains to our and future riders’ lives. We would love to work with the planners and decision makers to make this future a reality.


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This letter has been signed by (updates periodically):

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