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Despite Health and Safety Measures, UGA Students Are Skeptical of Transit

The Vet Med route is one of about a dozen routes changing this semester.

While less exciting than taking a dip in the Herty Field fountain or ringing the Chapel bell, an unspoken tradition for freshmen at the University of Georgia is learning the ins and outs of UGA’s bus system. But this year, returning upperclassmen will learn new bus routes alongside freshmen—assuming they choose to use them.

The university released the new bus routes in late July. They largely go to the same destinations as the former routes, but some were made shorter, given new names or rerouted to hit the busiest bus stops on campus. With help from the Student Government Association, UGA Transportation and Parking Services changed the routes to accommodate a reduction in occupancy on its buses and prevent crowding around busy bus stops in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Passengers must sit while riding buses, and only 18–20 passengers will be allowed on a bus at once, with seats spaced out according to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Federal Transit Administration and Department of Administrative Services.

Even though buses won’t run at full capacity, Greg Trevor, interim senior executive director for UGA Marketing and Communications, said the number of buses running will largely be the same as previous semesters, with the university expecting the new routes to be sufficient for quickly getting students on and off buses.

A few other guidelines include requiring both drivers and passengers to wear face coverings while on buses, providing protective barriers between drivers and passengers, and only using the back door for both entering and exiting buses. Trevor said disinfectant sprayers will be used inside buses each night, disinfectant wipes will be used on all handrails and seats between class breaks and hand sanitizer will be available on all buses.

But despite the guidelines and safety precautions UGA Transportation and Parking Services implemented, some students still feel unsafe boarding a bus this semester.

“I don’t really feel comfortable with the option of public transportation, given the circumstances,” said James Jadun, a sophomore art major. “I might feel safe if it wasn’t for the fact that UGA buses are already notoriously crowded. Everyone is going to be waiting in the same place at once, and there’s not a feasible way to mandate social distancing when the bus stops are so small anyway.”

While the university can control the level of occupancy on its buses, it cannot control whether students choose to spread themselves out at bus stops. Alleviating idle time spent at busy bus stops like Tate Student Center was a factor in the creation of new bus routes, but Jadun said he thinks many students, especially those who aren’t concerned about spreading COVID-19, will not social-distance around them.

Gabe Patterson, a junior in natural resource management who will start his first year as a transfer student at UGA this semester, said he worries his peers will not take the COVID-19 pandemic seriously.

“My impression is that a lot of the student body is from the northern Atlanta suburbs—a spot of red, conservative people,” said Patterson, who will bike to and from campus instead of riding buses. “Throughout this pandemic, it seems many people on the right aren’t taking this pandemic seriously and are pretending everything is normal, and I think that attitude will make the spread of COVID-19 on campus bad. You know people are going to go to parties and bars, because it’s Athens, and that’s what you do.”

Patterson said he believes lowering the overall number of students on UGA’s campus is one of the only ways for public transportation to be relatively safe, given the crowded bus stops between classes. This will partly be accomplished with the HyFlex learning model that will be used in some classes, whereby students are split into rotation groups and take turns going to in-person lectures.

Rosemary Wills, a senior education major, said she will avoid riding UGA buses whenever possible, but she relies on an Athens-Clarke County Transit bus to get to campus this semester. The safety precautions implemented for both UGA and ACC Transit buses are fairly similar. Frequent touch surfaces are disinfected at the end of each ACC Transit bus route, passengers are required to wear face coverings and hand sanitizer is available on buses, said Rachel Hopkins, marketing coordinator for ACC Transit. Additionally, its buses are thoroughly cleaned and treated with UV lighting, which kills coronavirus, every night. However, buses will run at full capacity, and ACC Transit cannot guarantee social distancing on them, Hopkins said. The department is adding a live passenger count on myStop, the app that passengers use to live-track buses.

With all of the new changes to which students must adapt, Wills believes most professors will be understanding of students running a bit late to class if they opt not to ride buses.

“A lot of classes cover a lot of material, and professors have to cram that into the time they already have,” she said. “I think it’s more trouble to be in person that it would have been to be online. There are just so many complications.”

New UGA Bus Routes

Central Loop: To and from the central points of campus, like the Main Library, Tate Student Center/Memorial Hall and North, East and South campus.

North-South Connector: To and from central points on campus, like the major hubs of North Campus, Tate Student Center/Memorial Hall and South Campus, including Driftmier Engineering Center.

East Campus Shuttle: From the Intramural Fields and East Campus to Ag Hill, Tate Student Center/Memorial Hall and the Terry College of Business.

West Campus Shuttle: To and from first-year dorms, Terry College of Business buildings, North Campus and Tate Student Center/Memorial Hall.

Arch Express: To and from the Athens Transit Multimodal Center, North Campus, Ag Hill and Tate Student Center/Memorial Hall.

Bulldog Housing: To and from University Village, Driftmier Engineering Center, Science Learning Center and South and East campus.

Park and Ride: To and from the College Station park-and-ride lot to major hubs on campus, like East Campus, Tate Student Center/Memorial Hall, Ag Hill and the Intramural Fields.

Vet Med: Changed to now service East Campus.

Health Sciences: Remains unchanged, but now expected to get passengers to their destinations in less time.

Milledge Avenue: Remains unchanged but expected to get passengers to their destinations in less time.

Greenhouse Shuttle: Changed to service Plant Sciences so students can use the route to get to the UGArden off Milledge Avenue.