New shuttles receive mixed reception

Debate over U-Pass Program remains ongoing

Written By Amanda Andrews, Co-News Editor

On Aug. 14, Dean of Students and Vice President of Student Affairs Keith Paylo released the new transportation schedule for the Point Park shuttle service planned for the Fall 2019 semester.

Notably, several routes have been added. The shuttles now service the South Side, Strip District, Mt. Washington and Station Square. According to the transportation schedule, stops on these routes include The Cheesecake Factory, Highmark Stadium, the Monongahela and Duquesne Inclines, Wholey’s Fish Market, AMC Loews Theater and Target in the Waterfront and a Giant Eagle store in the South Side.

“It’s about coverage of the city,” Paylo said, regarding the new routes. “What are areas that students can utilize that can assist them in, really, their daily lives on campus? Where are they going to have the most access to things such as grocery stores, restaurants, entertainment options, those types of ideas that would get them a wider range of offers in the city?”

The only exclusion from the shuttle schedule was the long-time route to Oakland.

On Aug. 15, in response to the elimination of the Oakland shuttle route, senior musical theatre major at Point Park and Oakland resident Rachel Parker started a petition on entitled “Get Point Park’s Oakland Shuttles back.”

“One of my friends who graduated last spring reached out to ask what was going on with the shuttle services, and she gave me the idea to start a petition,” Parker said. “After talking with her, my roommates and other concerned Oakland students, I figured it couldn’t hurt to start one. I honestly thought we would get 500 signatures, and I would turn it in to Paylo. When I woke up the next morning and saw we were over 1,000, I was shocked.”

The absence of the Oakland route in this semester’s transportation schedule has received the most protest out of any change in the shuttle routes amongst the student body. As of Aug. 26, the total number of signatures on the petition was 2,301. That total is around, if not more than, half the number of students who are enrolled at the university based on fall 2018 data.

Parker’s ultimate objective is to gain 2,500 signatures on the petition, but she said she would contact Dean Paylo for a third time after gaining 2,000 signatures, a goal reached on Aug. 20.

Dean Paylo is aware of students’ concerns and posts on social media about the controversy and has received related emails. He said that he reads every email he receives from students and that they should continue to submit their concerns to him. Paylo also said that he will be working with the United Student Government (USG) on this issue.

According to Paylo, many people are involved in the decision-making process for determining shuttle routes and stops. Vice President of Operations at the Physical Plant Christopher Hill, Director of Transportation and Administrative Services Jan Pekar and even President Paul Hennigan have some sway over the shuttles.

Hennigan was committed to extending the shuttle services to Oakland for one year after the Pittsburgh Playhouse was relocated in Downtown Pittsburgh. Now that a new academic year has started, that commitment has been fulfilled. However, Parker argues that students living in Oakland require the shuttles and that concerns have been going unanswered by the administration.

“The new shuttle routes leave the Oakland student body stranded,” Parker said. “Students move to Oakland for cheaper housing options and the free shuttle service the school has always provided. They waited the entire summer to tell us where shuttles were going and now have avoided all questions and concerns about the shuttles and the student safety that is tied into the necessity of them. It makes me feel like they knew Oakland students would be outraged and have decided to ignore us hoping we would give up.”

The free shuttles to Oakland were never intended for students living in Oakland, according to Paylo. The original purpose of the shuttles to Oakland was to transport Conservatory of Performing Arts (COPA) students to and from the Pittsburgh Playhouse once situated in Oakland.

“Well, the creation of the Oakland loop was an academic loop to the Pittsburgh Playhouse,” Paylo said. “It was located in South Oakland. The creation of that and the purpose of that shuttle was…an academic purpose…because we owned the Pittsburgh Playhouse, had classes out there, shows out there. We needed to get students, in all honesty, to a location off-campus that was still part of our campus. And the creation of that shuttle system years ago was for that reason.”

Due to the Pittsburgh Playhouse’s location in Downtown and Hennigan’s one year extension of the Oakland shuttles having expired after the end of last year, Paylo said that “the purpose of that shuttle no longer exists.”

Despite the lack of an academic purpose to the Oakland shuttles, Parker said that students living in Oakland were left unprepared by the sudden news of the loss of the shuttle route and will be forced to go through serious financial straits to commute to campus.

“I guess the contingency plan is to drop money on a bus pass that was supposed to be for food and eat less,” Parker said. “I mean we’re talking an extra $97.50 a month or $1072.50 annually. That’s not pocket money for most students. It would be great if Point Park could join the U-Pass program because it would save commuters a lot of money. I just don’t understand how a school made up of mostly commuters isn’t a part of the program already.”

The U-Pass Program is a system that allows students, staff and faculty to ride on any Port Authority vehicle at any time by using their school ID. Schools such as the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University and Chatham University participate in the U-Pass Program.

When asked about the alternative of switching from the shuttle service to the U-Pass Program, Paylo said that he had engaged in talks with the person in charge of the U-Pass Program, and that the idea of switching to the system provided by the Port Authority has been brought up every year.

“I think the misnomer is is that it’s free to those students at other colleges and universities. And that is not true,” Paylo said. “Students at those colleges or universities, and some of them are very large, [have] transportation fees and so forth. You cannot just all of a sudden say, ‘PAT or Port Authority, you’re gonna let our students use it for free.’ It comes at a cost. So we have to balance, obviously, that in our discussions with the Port Authority of what that cost will be.”

Based on his latest meeting with the Port Authority, Paylo said that conversations would be open, and he would be given updates to the changes within the U-Pass Program.

Usage and feedback on the shuttle services this semester will be taken in consideration by the administration, so the routes listed for this semester may not be identical next semester.

While not listed in the email sent out, shuttles to East Liberty will also be provided on the weekends through the Student Activities Involvement and Leadership (SAIL) office.