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WCU to end off-campus busing

Once the spring 2015 semester wraps up at Western Carolina University, off-campus students will no longer have the option of catching the bus to classes. 

While enrollment at the university — and development around it — is increasing, ridership on the off-campus route has been declining. So, WCU has decided to get rid of the off-campus route and funnel those resources instead to the on-campus routes.

“With the growth in student population and the development of off-campus apartments, the decline in ridership doesn’t seem logical, but it is the reality we are facing,” said Communications Director Bill Studenc. “We are finding that some off-campus students are walking or riding bicycles to campus, but many more are driving to campus and parking in the commuter lots.”

The university had originally proposed to ax the route by the end of 2014 but honored requests from the Student Government Association to keep it intact through the end of the Fall 2014 term. Ultimately, WCU decided to extend service through the end of the Spring 2015 semester to accommodate students who had leased off-campus apartments counting on having shuttle service. 

But most of those students seem to favor hopping in a car over catching the bus. 

Though WCU’s resident student enrollment increased by 521 between 2011 and 2013 — now 7,403 students are taking at least one class on campus — ridership for the off-campus route has fallen from its peak of 10,000 one-way rides in the 2008-09 school year to 8,500 for the 2014 calendar year. The university estimates that it’s costing about $9 per ride to shuttle students from off-campus stops, far more than the 90 cents to $1.90 cost for on-campus routes. 

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“Rather than waiting for an off-campus shuttle, students seem to find it more convenient to drive to campus, park in a commuter lot and ride the on-campus shuttle or walk to their classes,” Studenc said. “Having access to their vehicles also allows them to drive to Sylva for lunch in between classes or run errands in town.”

The on-campus shuttle, however, is becoming increasingly popular. Since WCU’s shuttle service began in 2004 with two small shuttle buses, it’s grown to include 10 buses, some of which run until 2 a.m. The off-campus route was added in 2007. Each year, the on-campus shuttle provides 5 to 7 percent more rides than the previous one, with the annual ridership for the campus of 4,000 residential students fast approaching 400,000. 

By reallocating the off-campus buses to serve on-campus stops, the university will be able to offer more frequent pick-ups at those on-campus stops, increasing efficiency by 33 percent. That means that a between-bus wait that’s 15 minutes right now would fall to 10 minutes. 

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