Letter to the editor: why buses should be publicly owned and specialized for university students

Students board the CSUN bus which goes to the dorms
Students board the privately owned bus service that transports them from CSUN's main campus to the dorms. Photo credit: Marja Ziemer

I have ridden public transit buses for six years in Los Angeles and I am a regular rider of the dorm to school bus tram. As an urban planning major and as someone who is registered with the disability office, I am impressed with its frequent service, but have concerns.

Currently, the dorm trams, along with the Metrolink shuttle, are privately contracted out by the university to Keolis, a privately owned French firm with a global reach. Personally, I feel the university should run these services entirely, as opposed to being privately contracted.
Since CSUN is a public university, its vehicles are forced to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As a result, they are well maintained but the same level of maintenance is not required for privately purchased and owned vehicles, like the ones currently used for these services.

On my tram route to the dorms, I noticed the buses by Keolis were in poor shape. I even questioned if the wheelchair lift worked.

Brian Sanchez, a care worker for a disabled student, said two buses have their handicap ramp broken, which is in direct violation of the ADA. As a result, he only uses the bus on exceptionally hot, cold, and/or rainy days because of the health risks that involve being exposed for too long.

In addition, Keolis is currently under fire in Massachusetts for poor service complaints and fine dodging that led to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority contract to be terminated in January 2017. Staff, driver and vehicle shortages were noted as well. I do not see this happening if the buses are publicly owned due to ADA compliance and regular service intervals being mandatorily enforced.

Another problem with the buses being privately owned, is that they are generalized to fit as many services as possible, and not specialized to CSUN. From my experience with riding the tram on campus for two semesters, I’ve noticed many times that the buses are packed like sardines and overloaded with passengers. There are riders sitting or standing on the steps because every other space on the bus is taken. Many passengers have to temporarily get off the bus and then back on so that a rider or two in the back of the bus can get off.

Furthermore, there is music that’s played through the radio on the dorm trams which is problematic. The transit buses I rode in Los Angeles for six years have PA announcement systems and readouts for making people aware of upcoming stops along with stop cords and/or buttons to signal the driver to stop, and therefore you are banned from using radios and playing music unless you have headphones on.

Most public transit riders take these features and measures for granted, but for those who are blind or deaf, the PA announcement system and readouts may be the only way they know they are at their stop.

Having stop cords and/or buttons also allows all riders of all abilities to notify the driver to stop without speaking, which is especially critical if you are deaf, and/or if the bus is fully loaded.

If the buses were publicly owned and specialized for CSUN, having such features will be integral to disability access as much as having a wheelchair ramp. I know this is a tough time to fund such a move, but the long-term goal and outcome of having one of the greenest and most efficient university bus fleets in the nation, is something that everyone here at CSUN should be proud and honored to work on all the way through.

  • Skinny Dude

    I am sorry that students are having issues with the dorm buses but this argument to move to public buses is completely misdirected.

    The issue isn’t public vs private but really about the way CSUN outsources the dorm buses. CSUN is responsible for selecting and monitoring the company that provides the dorm bus service. If there is a quality issue then CSUN either isn’t properly monitoring or CSUN failed to properly vett the bus company during the bidding process (if there was a bidding process).

    If CSUN failed in its duty to properly vett and monitor the dorm bus company, why would CSUN be any better at providing the bus service themselves? I think that’s a scary proposition based on an assumption that public bus service is so great thing – Have you experienced riding MTA buses?

    Your goal should be to learn the process of how CSUN selects, monitors, and corrects issues with outside vendors like this dorm bus company. Is there a complaint line about the bus problems you mentioned? What are ways CSUN can deal with vendors that are lacking in quality service? Are vendors adhering to the contract? Etc.

    You have some due diligence to do, my friend…

  • 20autismmom10

    This is crucial information and students using the Disability Services office could write letters to the school demanding they make the company to force the repairs, letting them know that they also plan to file individual civil rights violations as well if elevators are not repaired in a timely manner and the buses do not stop blaring music and create an accessible way for students to notify the driver of their stop. The student using the aide and wheelchair should file a personal ADA violation now and perhaps a petition could be created to bring attention to the problem accompanied by individual letters of complaint. Individual letters from each disabled student would be more effective than one petition with lots of signatures as it would tell each individual story.

    I called the Federal ADA office and was told that the company MUST adhere to
    the ADA under “Title 3, Part 36, Nondiscrimination on the Basis of
    Disability in Public Accommodations and Commercial Facilities” whether private
    or public entity. link here to law: https://www.ada.gov/regs2010/titleIII_2010/titleIII_2010_regulations.htm

    Link to filing a complaint: https://www.ada.gov/filing_complaint.htm