Stingerette still coping with an influx of new riders

Despite the new Stingerette operating hours announced earlier this semester to help make the on-demand shuttle service more useful to students, some have found the service to be unreliable and difficult to use in the last month, especially around the first three weeks of the semester.

Reports of long wait times for the Stingerette and absent dispatchers has frustrated those students who use the service to get safely across campus after dark.

“They rarely pick up their phones,” said Shazia Mohammad, fourth-year CHBE major. “I tried for two hours straight around 1:30 a.m. one night and no one picked up.” Other students, including Mohammad, recalled previous semesters with less-than-stellar service and wait times of up to 30 minutes.

According to the Parking and Transportation office, there are still issues with the Stingerette shuttle service.

“We have had a huge increase, an absolutely huge increase, in the number of people using the Stingerette services this semester,” said David Williamson, assistant director of Parking and Transportation

“The increase in demand is the principal cause of people having difficulty reaching the Stingerette dispatcher, as well as the wait times for rides,” Williamson said.

Williamson described that from around the beginning of August to mid-September, the Stingerette has taken 5,825 call requests and transported 8,292 riders around campus. These numbers represent a 42 percent increase in call request and a 32 percent increase in riders utilizing the Stingerette service. This increase in demand for the service has put increased strain on the current ability of the dispatchers and drivers to coordinate and schedule consistently prompt and efficient service according to Williamson.

Current data from Parking and Transportation shows that the Stingerette staff is able to respond to about 50 percent of all calls for service within five minutes, and about 80 percent of all call requests within ten to eleven minutes. At times the number of calls exceeds the supply capacity. This is the cause of many of the backups, delays and unanswered calls that many students have experienced.

Fortunately, the service has been getting better and more reliable as of late, despite the increasingly heavy demand.

“The Stingerette was not working for the first three weeks of school, but it started back up at the beginning of last week,” Mohammad said. “They even pick up the phone now.”

Given that there have been changes with the Stingerette operation hours, combined with the increased awareness toward possible criminal activity, more students have chosen to use the Stingerette.

“Meeting the needs of this type of growth in demand is a daily challenge for our staff, and I would ask that riders be patient during this adjustment period,” Williamson said.

Additionally, many students have experienced problems with long, inconsistent wait times for the Stinger buses, especially at the beginning of the semester.

According to Williamson there are many factors that are beyond the control of Parking. The beginning of the fall semester is harder on the buses due to the transition from minimal summer staff to a new full staff.

The capacity is an issue with the limited number of buses. “We are aware of the issue,” Williamson said. He advised that simply hiring more busses would clog the system more.

The current on-time performance of the bus service is at around 70 percent. “This is not where we want to be. We want something around 80 percent,” Williamson said.

Parking is looking into the problem of over-capacity, which occurs when a bus is unable to stop to pick up new riders because it is too full. The current contract with First Transit Company, which operates Tech’s bus services, ends in a year, and Parking is looking into getting larger busses.

There are other options that Parking is hoping to implement to help riders use the bus services more easily and efficiently, such as having more NextBus interactive maps like the one at the Student Center information desk, as well as possibly having text messaging services to find bus locations and stop times.