Transportation details plan to increase SMFA busing capacity

Students are pictured boarding the SMFA shuttle in front of Aidekman Arts Center on March 26. (Dogacan Colak / The Tufts Daily)

Plans for a comprehensive shuttle service between the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA) and Medford campuses have been developed to deal with the housing shift of SMFA sophomores to the Medford campus for the 2019–2020 school year.

The SMFA/Medford shuttle service will run according to the schedule it currently works under, according to Charles Grab, transportation and fleet manager. The current schedule runs four shuttles with hours ranging from 8:15 a.m. to 12 a.m. outbound from the SMFA and 7:45 a.m. to 1 a.m. inbound from the Medford campus, according to the Shuttle Services page on the Tufts University website.

Grab said capacity, rather than scheduling, is key to the plan of dealing with the SMFA housing situation. To increase capacity, Grab said a city-style bus, which could hold up to 80 people, will be used. The current buses can transport approximately 30 people, according to Grab.

Grab explained that transportation services work with an outside contractor, A&A Metro, and they provide the buses and drivers for the shuttle service. To accommodate the larger numbers of students commuting between the SMFA and Medford campuses, transportation services will request larger buses to run during peak hours of operation. This plan will be implemented for the upcoming 2019–2020 school year.

According to Grab, these larger city buses are $10–$20 more expensive per hour than the shuttles currently used.

The current SMFA/Medford shuttle schedule was changed this semester, according to Grab.

“The current schedule wasn’t really conducive to staying on time. We were having capacity issues, things like that,” Grab explained.

The new schedule was built to run on a bus leaving every 30 minutes. The shuttle service has four buses running, allowing an hour for travel time.

“That schedule works really well. The buses are on time, but we are going to have capacity issues more than scheduling issues,” Grab stated.

According to Grab, after the new plan was instituted, ridership and efficiency increased.

“Complaints dropped like a rock. I maybe hear from one person a month. Whereas before I was hearing from eight to 10 people a day if the bus was really not cutting it,” Grab said. “So since that is so stable, I mean truly a good foundation, I am focused on capacity for now.”

The adoption of larger buses alleviates concerns over capacity, but leaves other issues unsolved. For example, it does not ameliorate the concerns SMFA students have with being so far from their school, according to Alessia Petricca Lindorf, a first-year student at the SMFA.

“Let’s say I’m in Medford, and I have to catch a shuttle at 8 a.m. to get to SMFA at 9 a.m. If I miss that 8 a.m., I’m screwed basically,” she said. “I have to [take] the T, and it’s going to take me an hour, and I’m going to be late to class.”

Lindorf said that having another shuttle that departed shortly after the 8 a.m. one would aid her ability to make it to class on time.

Dual-degree student Sam Oomen-Lochtefeld explained additional difficulties that the distance between the SMFA and the Medford campuses creates.

“It can be really difficult to have such a separation between where you live and where your classes are,” Oomen-Lochtefeld, a first-year, said. “Having to take a 45 minute shuttle to the SMFA and back not only is very draining, but [it] also makes it really hard to feel at home in the museum school.”

Grab acknowledged the difficulty the distance poses for SMFA students.

“They need to manage their day completely differently from anyone else. They don’t have the luxury of just walking to class, or skipping breakfast and going to class,” he said.

According to Grab, the scheduling of classes is another important factor that will make student life between both campuses easier.

“The SMFA is on one schedule. Medford’s on a different [one]. And even if you had your own car at the door ready to leave one campus to another, there’s timing where you take the wrong blend of classes, and you’ll never make it to class on time,” he said.

Grab explained that there will still be a learning curve with the shuttle system for students next year.

“We honestly won’t have a sense of how this new blend of circumstances is going to affect the daily rhythm for people until their schedules are set and they get used to the commute,” he said.

Student forums will be held early next year to discuss any adjustments or problems needing to be resolved with the shuttle service, according to Grab.

“If we find [out] one person can’t do something because the way classes line up is terrible — true single-occupancy … situations — I then pass that up to the dean’s office and see if there is a special accommodation we can make. And we’ve done it,” Grab said.