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CAT-TRAN gets new buses, paint jobs, routes

News Editor

Published: Sunday, October 28, 2012

Updated: Sunday, October 28, 2012 09:10

CAT-TRAN gets new buses, paint jobs, routes

Jamie North

The off campus shuttle could be in danger of getting cut due to low financial figures.

For those who are not aware, Western Carolina University has its own on-campus transportation system known as CAT-TRAN, which serves students, staff, faculty and visitors both day and night. The only times that CAT-TRAN buses do not run is when classes are not in session.

There has been a buzz around campus since the first day of classes centering on CAT-TRAN’s new buses and routes for the 2012 school year. Where did these new buses come from? Why were the routes changed?

As the University Police manage CAT-TRAN, Chief of Police Ernie Hudson sat down with The Western Carolinian for an in-depth look at the CAT-TRAN transportation service.

Chief Hudson explained the situation surrounding the new buses now seen on campus.

“We try to replace a bus each year. Normally a rotation is set up to replace the aging buses. Due to the economic situation in some years, we have not replaced buses, but we are pretty much back on track now,” said Hudson.

Two buses were purchased for the new Health & Human Sciences Building. One was bought two years ago in anticipation of the HHS Building, and the second was purchased at the beginning of this summer, according to Hudson.

“[The HHS Building buses] were purchased using University funds. Our usual replacements are purchased using funds from the transportation fees that are collected,” said Hudson.

Hudson said that buses are purchased based on state contracts and/or a bidding process. The contracts for state vehicles are entered into at the state level in Raleigh.

“We do not control the contract process. There are very strict purchasing processes that have to be followed,” said Hudson. “As with any large purchase, they are subject to audit. Buses range from about $50k to about $75k. The smaller buses are less expensive. Disability equipped buses are more expensive than others.”

Some vendors the University has purchased buses from are National Bus Sales, Palmetto Bus Sales and Carolina Thomas LLC.

In order to save money, Hudson explained that there is a new color driving around campus.

“As a cost savings measure, we have stopped purchasing purple buses and instead have moved to the basic color of white. We add purple striping,” said Hudson.

Before the 2012 school year, there were 24 designated stops for CAT-TRAN. This year, that number was lowered to 20.

“The number was reduced for several reasons,” said Hudson. “One, some stops were not physically safe. Two, some were not used very often or were too close to other stops. Three, efficiency. [It is] similar to what would occur in a neighborhood. School buses do not stop at each house. They have a central pickup point. The logic is the same.”

Students have also recently had trouble with the buses running late to their designated stops. The signs for designated CAT-TRAN stops say that buses will arrive every 15 minutes, but students report that buses cannot be found.

“To answer directly, I would need to know which bus, what day, what time,” said Hudson. “Generally there can be any number of reasons why a bus could run late: traffic, accidents, diversion of a bus to transport a person with disabilities, a road closure such as we had this week with Killian, weather, etc. There can be many reasons.

“Generally, the on-campus buses run about 10-12 minutes apart during the busiest portion of the day and less frequently at night,” added Hudson. “They all run the same route though. The HHS Express runs about 11 minutes apart during peak periods. The apartment shuttle has two routes of 30 minutes. We rely on specific feedback on scheduling issues so that we can pinpoint any problem.”

Among the numerous fees that students are charged during the beginning of the semester, one is a CAT-TRAN fee. This, like most other fees, has been raised this year. The 2012-2013 CAT-TRAN fee is $80, a $16 spike from last semester.

According to Hudson, the CAT-TRAN is operationally funded through the student transportation fee and that is the sole source of revenue for the CAT-TRAN service.

“State tax funds do not pay for either CAT-TRAN or Parking. State funds generally pay for teachers, classrooms, etc. CAT-TRAN is like any other university department. It pays for fuel, maintenance, drivers, replacement buses, insurance, repairs, etc.,” said Hudson.

With the rise in prices around the nation, everything at the University has gone up as well. For instance, with the recent spike in gas prices, the cost of running the buses goes up.

“As the 2012 budget closed out, we were at the breakeven point. As an average, a typical bus costs about $50 an hour to operate. So each bus costs $400 for an 8-hour operational day. The more buses, the more time on the road, the more expensive it is to operate,” said Hudson.

Western Carolina formerly used the Jackson County Transit (JCT) to shuttle students to and from the off campus apartments. With the new buses, WCU opted not to renew its contract with the Jackson County Transit.

According to Hudson, the contract cost was close to $70k per year and, with that, WCU was subject to the rules of their operations. Delays and cancellations were under the control of JCT.

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