Should UD buses be open to the public?
Recent public meetings have rekindled an old debate: Should Newark residents be allowed to ride University of Delaware buses?
The desire for a partnership on bus transportation resurfaced last month, with city council expressing a keen interest in working with the university to expand the public transportation offerings in the city.
“We have a fantastic quartet potentially of transportation systems here in Newark, if we could coordinate them all,” Councilman Chris Hamilton said. “A large part of that is UD; the buses go everywhere, and they even have hydrogen buses.”
DART, Cecil Transit and the city’s Unicity bus ser vice have more than 10 routes throughout Newark, but access to university buses would allow for more robust coverage of the city via public transportation.
While there is overlap between the public and private services, UD’s buses run routes on roads not serviced by the other transit companies, like through Academy Street, Paper Mill Road and Wyoming Road.
To integrate services, both UD and the city have to come to the table, however.
The conversation briefly opened during UD’s presentation to city council on the university’s impact on economic impact in September, when Alan Brangman, executive vice president, said that the university could “probably do more” to collaborate with the city.
“If we could come up with a better transportation system, jointly
with the city, maybe that’s one of those things we can do better than we do now,” he said. “Certainly, we have the expertise to try to figure out how to do that.”
The discussion was renewed at a city council meeting last week when Heather Dunigan, principal planner for WILMAPCO, talked about her organization’s 2050 transportation plan.
“I can say that other university transit systems have established joint agreements with their municipalities to allow shared access to the buses, so it might be an arrangement where UD students were given, as part of their tuition, free access to DART, if they show their ID cards. In exchange, the community of Newark [could] show an ID or buy a pass or some arrangement to allow them access [to UD buses],” she said at the meeting. “We haven’t reached that point of recommendation yet for Newark, but I do know that it’s been done elsewhere successfully.”
Andrea Boyle Tippett, a spokeswoman for the university, said UD is looking to expand ridership, though it has no details currently.
Tippett said that the university’s buses are a private transportation system because they are owned, operated and funded through UD.
“We receive no state or federal funding to assist in supporting
bus operations, and thus, can limit ridership,” she explained. “For the safety of the students and to assist in managing capacity of our current system, UD policy currently allows only UD-affiliated students, faculty and staff to ride.”
Dunigan noted that the Newark Transit Improvement Partnership committee was formed in 2017 in order to improve collaboration between the various transit services, make them more user-friendly and attract more riders, she said.
The committee is composed of UD, the city of Newark, DART, Cecil Transit and WILMAPCO. That internal analysis morphed into a more formal study, she said.
“As part of the annual planning program WILMAPCO does, we received a request from DART and Newark to study how we could improve transit in Newark,” she said.
For now, she said that they don’t know if a joint effort on buses will be a recommendation that comes out of the study, but said the group is working toward more technical analysis and outreach to understand what the public wants.
The work began over the summer with a survey of bus riders and then continued with talking to DART drivers to gauge their observations of what was working well. Community and business surveys are online now and a public workshop is set for Nov. 13 at city hall from 4 to 6:30 p.m.
“I’m excited, from the council meeting, that this is priority for the city of Newark and council because that means there will be a increased interest in this,” Dunigan said.
At the meeting, Hamilton recommended giving the university a push to open up conversation about a collaboration.
“I’m hoping that we all swing back with [Caitlin Olsen, university liaison] and obviously continue echoing that throughout the university administration,” he said.
Tippett said the university is listening.
“The university has and continues to participate in conversations regarding the transportation system throughout Newark,” Tippett said.
UD students disembark from a university-run bus outside Smith Hall on Wednesday.