Fairfield University student Lauren Buscone ‘15 was shivering as she stood outside of the Marshall’s on Post Road. She’d just gotten done her night shift at a local restaurant and was eager to get out of the freezing nor’easter snowstorm that had come just days after Hurricane Sandy.
She’d been waiting at the designated Fairfield University Stag Bus stop for about 45 minutes in total, assuming that even with delays a bus should have shown up by now. It was only when her smart phone was finally able to pull up the “Stag Bus Locator” webpage that she discovered “Status: Shuttle Not in Service”.
She then started the 2-mile walk back to campus.
Thankfully, she was picked up on the way by a friend, but other times she has not been so lucky.
“It has happened to me a few times at this point,” she said. “Usually later at night.”
Buscone is just one of the many Fairfield University students who remain unhappy and frustrated with the operation of the Stag Bus.
In an unofficial online survey distributed to 85 undergraduate Fairfield University students, 68% said that they were currently dissatisfied with the means of off-campus transportation provided by the university.
Recurring Problem for Students
Throughout the years, the Stag Bus has been a point of frustration for several Fairfield University students.
Since the year 2000, there have been 11 articles written about the Stag Bus by Fairfield University students in the school paper, The Mirror, most of which voiced their complaints and concerns about the Stag Bus. This means that there has been a different story written nearly every year for over a decade.
Some of the eye-catching and self-explanatory headlines students have used are “Not Homeless; Just Waiting For the Bus”, “More Stag Bus Woes” and “Is the school bus a bust? Some students seeing Red.”
Some of the most popular complaints made by students in the past have had to with how students thought the shuttles were too small, how the daily route didn’t include enough stops and how Fairfield Prep students were taking spots on the bus that belonged to university students.
The man who is in charge of addressing issues concerning the Stag Bus is Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs Jim Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick, who has been overseeing Stag Bus operations for the past 20 years, says that the university has and will continue to consider student’s comments and complaints in order to make the operation run more satisfactorily.
“It’s one of those situations where you’re always striving for 100% perfection,” Fitzpatrick said. “You don’t get it, but you try to push and do everything you can to be able to get to that standard.”
While the term “Stag Bus” might be exclusive to Fairfield University, the concept of schools providing off-campus transportation to students is one that seems to be consistent nationwide.
It appears that almost all major colleges and universities offer some form of off-campus transportation. Subsequently, they have their own collection of complaints.
For example, Kate Hannigan ’14 of Providence College, claims that their shuttle doesn’t go to locations that students find interesting.
“We have a shuttle but I don’t really know too many people who use it,” she said. “It doesn’t run to the places that students actually want to go to.”
Another is Lauren Cook ’15 from Fordham University, who described the quality of the vans used to transport students off campus as “disgusting.”
“I once got picked up at night and the entire backseat was covered in someone’s throw up,” she said. “I almost threw up too.”
Sacred Heart University, another school located in Fairfield, CT, also offers an off-campus shuttle that runs a very similar route and schedule to that of Fairfield University.
According to students, there bus is far from perfect as well. One major complaint that SHU students have has to do with the condition of the buses themselves.
Kati Csizmadia ’15 said, “[The buses] break down sometimes which causes unexpected delays. Usually they fix it quickly but it’s still an inconvenience. I missed a class because of it once.”
Currently, the biggest complaint that Fairfield University students have with the Stag Bus is its schedule and timing.
The current Stag Bus schedule begins at 11:15 a.m. every day and runs on a 45-minute circuit that starts and ends at the bus stop right outside of the Barone Campus Center. Monday through Thursday, the bus stops running at 10:30 p.m. but on Friday and Saturday it runs until 11:15 p.m. On Sundays, it runs until 7:30 p.m.
“I usually work late on Sundays,” Buscone said. “And I always end up scrambling for a ride or walking. I just don’t understand why they don’t run a later bus on Sundays.”
In the same distributed student survey, 72% of students said that they were unsatisfied with the current Stag Bus schedule.
“I wish it would run more frequently,” Sebastian Salvo ‘15 said. “As opposed to every 45 minutes, every 25 minutes.”
Catherine Fox ’16 said, “I wish it would run on a shorter loop. Instead of running every 45 minutes, it would be great if it ran every 30 because I know there’s been times when I need to catch a train and it’s been tight.”
The timing of the Stag Bus has proven to be a significant problem for those students who work off-campus, namely those with jobs in town and those who have internships in New York City.
“Sometimes I have to get out of work, like, 10 minutes early,” said Colleen McFadden ‘15, a student who works at the Banana Republic in town. “But by then it’s already left or sometimes I’m waiting another ten minutes.”
Edward Reilly, an employee of Dattco, the bus company that Fairfield hires to run its shuttle service, has also observed a problem with the Stag Bus scheduling. Students more familiarly know Reilly as the day shift Stag Bus driver.
“To improve [the Stag Bus], they should try and synchronize it more,” Reilly said. “We have a problem with two trains on the Metro: the 5:15 and the 6 o’ clock. Either we just make ‘em or we just miss ‘em. If we could do something about that, I think it would be a help.”
Cost Too High?
Despite the fact that the university is aware of student’s discontent regarding the present Stag Bus schedule, according to Fitzpatrick there are no immediate plans to change it.
As is the case for several departments on campus during these tough economic times, one of the many reasons why no major alterations will be made to the schedule is due to lack of funds.
“I would love to run an earlier bus but it’s just not in our current budget,” Fitzpatrick said.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time that cost has negatively impacted transportation offered by the university.
According to Fitzpatrick, in the year 2009 the university cut funding for an on-campus shuttle that transported students between different locations that are on the outskirts of campus, such as the Dolan apartments and the Dolan School of Business. (See “It’s A Long Road to Dolan” Mirror article).
While Fitzpatrick did not disclose the figures behind the financial impact that this cut had on the university, he did say, “…the reductions that have been made regarding transportation has translated to a significant cost savings for the university during a time period where staff were being laid off and programs were being cut. It did not have a minor impact on being able to keep some [other] programs on campus.”
Better Than Ever?
Despite the problems that some students still have with the current Stag Bus, Fitzpatrick claims that things are going better now than they ever have before.
According to him, so far this semester he has only received 5 official complaints from students, which is a record low.
“The Stag Bus, just like anything else, is not perfect,” he said. “But I think the track record overall this year has been well above average.”
Some students agree, such Sara Robicheua ‘13, a student who works at the information desk in the BCC. She said, “This year it is way better than many of the other years. I’ve been working here for four years and this year they’re always on time. I can only remember one day when things got really messed up.”
Connor Kelley ’15 shared similar sentiments, “I think it’s really convenient and I think it’s a good thing that Fairfield does for its students. It’s doing a pretty solid job so far this year.”
What to Expect
Even though there are no changes to be made to the schedule in the foreseeable future, Fitzpatrick remains hopeful that alterations that are soon to be made to the “Stag Bus Locator” page, which features a real-time map that allows students to see where the Stag Bus is on its current route, will help students to better plan the timing of their trips.
While this may have been a convenient and helpful feature at one point, Fitzpatrick describes the current webpage as “archaic and out of place” and that the university “cant get rid of it soon enough.”
“We’re hoping that at the beginning of the spring semester, there’ll be an app for the bus system,” Fitzpatrick said. “That way you will be able to get on your smart phone and find out exactly where it is.”
While Fairfield University continues to search for the magic formula to make everyone happy, students will have to make due with the current system.
“I appreciate that we have [a bus] at all,” said Jimmy Hughto ’15. “But it could be better.”