Mar 11, 2014 9:54 PM by Dave Fields
Transportation upgrades soon could be coming for UL students, both the university's transportation director and its student government president are hoping.
At the end of the month, University of Louisiana (UL) students will vote on a referendum that will double the current $25 fee they pay during the Fall and Spring semesters. As proposed, UL students will decide whether or not to approve a $50 fee per semester that could result in marked improvement in campus transportation. The same fee for the summer semester would increase from $12.50 to $25.
The referendum will occur during the general elections on March 31 and April 1.
UL's Student Government Association (SGA) President David Neef said that campus transportation has been the most prevalent complaint among students university-wide.
"We've been talking with the transportation department about improving the long lines and providing better transportation services," said Neef, who outlined his vision, based on recommendations from the SGA's judicial committee, for how he hopes the funds from the referendum would be spent, if passed.
Neef indicated that "new buses will be leased" and "improved bus stop amenities" would be provided. Neef said he is hopeful that the funds would allow for the construction of "expanded covers" at bus stops for students who have found themselves in "long lines" while waiting for the next bus to arrive.
"Students won't have to get wet," Neef said.
In addition to convenience for students, Neef said he hopes that transportation improvements will improve the overall college experience for students. Neef indicated that, as a result of the fees, he would look forward to the possibility of expanding the night and evening schedules for university buses beyond the school's current "night shuttle program" that operates only on an "on-call basis." If the SGA president gets his way, he said the regular daytime buses will continue into the evening hours as well.
As of Monday, it appears that UL Transportation Director Cheri Soileau's plans are similar to those of Neef. According to Soileau, nearly all of her Parking and Transit Department's expectations for the possible funds derived from the referendum involve transit--not parking. Soileau explained why a "transit update" would be her top priority.
"Our fleet buses are 12 years old. They need to be replaced. They're older and they have more breakdowns because of age," Soileau said.
Soileau stated that, if the referendum passes, two new buses could be leased during the Fall 2014 semester after the student fee takes effect. The director also said students could begin to see progress on "passenger amenities at the bus stop" as well as "covered shelters" at least two--or possibly more--bus stops.
Neef also credited Soileau for an idea he says the director originated that would provide "additional supplemental shopper services" for students. Neef expressed excitement that this service truly "would make it more enjoyable to be a student at the university."
"We have a lot of students from out-of-state and from out-of-the-country," Neef said of students who find themselves without a vehicle to drive around town for basic needs. Soileau's shopper services shuttle, according to Neef, "can bring students to the pharmacy, the grocery store, or to the mall."
Soileau said that the service also would be a benefit for students "who simply don't feel like driving" to the store or to the mall.
Soileau said that the current UL fleet includes 11 full-sized buses, 2 smaller shuttle buses, and one van. On occasion, any of these units have been pressed into night or weekend duty for smaller groups. Sometimes, Soileau explained, these buses are used for in-state travel for certain campus teams or organizations.
Soileau said that when and if the university acquires the new buses in Fall 2014, she likely will attempt to obtain a transit bus with lower accessibility, such as the ones used by Lafayette Transit.
"This makes getting on and off easier and makes it easier for people who are physically challenged or have difficulty climbing stairs," she said. Soileau also was asked about the possibility of procuring so-called "green buses" that are powered by compressed natural gas.
"Anything is possible," Soileau said.
Regardless of the buses her staff will drive, Soileau said her transit staff would provide exceptional service to UL students.
"My student bus drivers have a very good safety record. I would put their record against any transit agency in the U.S. They are conscientious and they care. They care about getting students safely from Cajun Field to campus," Soileau said.