Airport Shuttles Strain Budget

In 2007, an effort to add convenience to students’ end-of-quarter airport treks yielded the now well-known ASSU Airport Shuttle Program. This program has been applauded for the convenience it affords students. It shuttles ticket buyers to either San Francisco or San Jose Airports, leaving at times spread out across a three-day period at the end of the quarter. But senators and students alike have raised concerns about the cost efficiency of the program, specifically the program cost of $54.70 per rider in the spring of this past year. And despite efforts to schedule bus departure times when the greatest number of students could utilize the service, only about 46% of available tickets were purchased.

In the spring, according to data from Stanford Student Enterprises, a budget of $6,500 was allocated by the Undergraduate Senate for the ASSU Executive to use in administering the shuttle program. Records reveal that the money came from the General Fee Reserve fund. According to Matt Sprague, the former director of the Capital Group at SSE, the General Fee Reserve is “composed of unspent General Fee payments from previous years of Stanford students….” He continued, “So it’s not as if it is a program actively taxing the student body. That being said, one could make the argument that it would be better to leave the money unspent and possibly use it for other, more productive things.”
The ASSU Executive’s shuttle account (#3200) shows a total of $6,236.00 used to fund the spring bus program. According to ASSU internal records, only 114 people purchased tickets in the spring, revealing a cost per rider of $54.70. This number is significantly higher than the prices of private shuttle firms, such as RideFly and SuperShuttle, which charge ticket prices as low as $26.

Senate’s Skepticism
Zachary Warma, an undergraduate senator, stressed his support for the purpose of the program but also stated, “On a variety of levels, I have deep concerns with the actual logistics of the program. I have been informed recently of the tremendously wasteful nature of the program, which I find shocking.”

Warma also called for a reexamining of the program, arguing, “Coupled with the continual last-minute planning of the program and the low levels of ridership, we need to methodically examine the traditional structure of the shuttles to see if any vast improvements can be made, or if the entire concept needs to be re-imagined for future years.”
The documented amount spent on the program, $6,236, leaves questions unanswered about funds in the Executive’s 3200 account. In the spring, the Undergraduate Senate had allotted $6,500 from the General Fee Reserve fund to pay for the program. However, according to the Executive’s financial records, the remaining $264.00 was never returned to the General Fee Reserve. Furthermore, ticket sales brought in $1,238.04 of revenue into the Executive’s coffers. According to Senator Anton Zietsman, those ticket revenues should be transferred back into the General Fee Reserve account if the original transfer of $6,500 exceeded the total costs of the program.

**The Program’s Future **
The program’s status this year remains unclear. Originally under the purview of the Executive, responsibility for the shuttles has now been transferred to the newly created Student Services Division (SSD). The SSD was created to manage several ASSU Executive programs. Matt McLaughlin, the current CEO of Stanford Student Enterprises, recounted that Jonny Dorsey and Fagan Harris, last year’s ASSU Executives, believed that managing the shuttle program directly under the ASSU took time away from more important issues, such as dealing with the consequences of the university budget crisis. McLaughlin noted that Jonny and Fagan “viewed the service as essential, so they continued to oversee its operation while simultaneously working to create an organization that could run the service in the future.”

Leadership for the new SSD has yet to be found, according to ASSU Executive David Gobaud. Therefore, the division does not currently have an executive director who can speak on the current status of the program. The Executive has recently begun accepting applications for the SSD executive director position.

Future funding of the program also remains uncertain. Last year’s Undergraduate Senate approved funding of the program for the current fiscal year for a total of $11,150 from the General Fee Reserve fund. This year’s budget only allocates $3,500 for the spring quarter.

Continued funding via the General Fee Reserve will likely come to an end after this year. According to McLaughlin, the shuttle bus program will then likely be moved to Special Fees status. The switch would mean that students would vote each spring to decide if they want to fund the program or not.

Senator Zietsman indicated confidence that the shuttle bus program was Special Fees bound. “Last year, I voted to fund the program with the understanding that it would go onto Special Fees for the next elections. Essentially, I believe that the students should choose whether or not they want to keep the program, knowing that if they do, they will have to pay for it.”
Senator Zietsman ultimately expressed skepticism, however. “Given that competitive alternatives such as SuperShuttle and RideFly exist, I doubt that the ASSU shuttle bus program will be renewed. Especially in the current context of financial responsibility, the ASSU is looking at ways to spend students’ funds efficiently….In the end, though, it will be up to the students to decide whether or not to save the program.”

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