Tufts overhauled its shuttle system this semester to accommodate the increasing size of the student body and offer more frequent and efficient service for riders. The updated shuttle system has multiple routes for students to choose from depending on their destination: SMFA, Davis Direct, Davis All Stops, Hyatt Direct and Beacon Street Direct.
John Savino, assistant director of transportation and contact services at Tufts, explained that the old shuttle system used smaller buses and offered fewer direct routes.
“The campus has grown, and campus needs were no longer being met with the smaller buses,” Savino wrote in an email. “This became clearer during COVID when physical distancing measures were put in place. This is the point at which Tufts moved the SMFA shuttle over to the bigger buses.”
According to Savino, the new shuttles can accommodate up to 55 passengers each and have hydraulic ramps at the front, making them ADA accessible.
Savino explained how the new system transports students to and from Davis Square.
“Davis Square buses use the Davis Direct Route during peak commuting time, picking up and dropping off at the Campus Center and Davis Square only," Savino said. "After 7 pm and on weekends, this route becomes the Davis All Stops Route serving Davis Square, Carmichael, Olin and the Campus Center."
Savino added that the updated shuttle system allows for more direct access to the SMFA, with shuttles taking Route 93 for a faster trip to the Fenway campus.
In addition to the Davis and SMFA shuttles, Tufts now has a shuttle that transports students to and from the Hyatt Place Medford, where approximately 100 first-years are being housed this year. According to Savino, the new Hyatt shuttle uses the same low-floor buses and runs between the Hyatt, the Cousens Gym and the Mayer Campus Center.
Although the new system makes the transportation process more streamlined, reliability is still an issue according to E.K. Wahome, a first-year who lives at the Hyatt.
“After the first week, they developed a pretty good schedule of running [the shuttle] every 20 minutes," Wahome said. "When it sticks to that schedule, it's great. But obviously there's things like weather or sometimes traffic ... that obviously are going to impede the shuttle schedule."
Leyla Mandel, a first-year in the SMFA combined-degree program, said transit times can vary considerably for the SMFA shuttle.
“If I go midday, [the commute will] be 30 minutes. But then I have later classes because most of my classes are five hours. If my class ends at five or six, the commute will be like an hour and a half,” Mandel said. “Going to the SMFA has been pretty reliable ... but then getting back from the SMFA to Tufts is pretty unreliable most times.”
Savino said that the university decided to add and remove stops from certain shuttle routes based on student feedback.
“Early in the semester there were growing pains with the new shuttle systems specific to the Hyatt and SMFA routes," Savino explained. "Student feedback was solicited and the Hyatt route was streamlined by removing Davis Sq. as a stop. Similarly, after student feedback on the SMFA, a permanent New England Conservatory bus stop was added and an additional bus was added on Monday mornings to mitigate wait times with heavy rush hour traffic on that day.”
Shuttle-tracking apps such as Tufts Mobile and the TransLoc Rider app have helped make the transportation process more efficient by reporting the anticipated arrival and departure times of each shuttle.
Wahome, who uses the Tufts Mobile app to track the shuttle, said it can be very helpful.
Mandel, however, said the tracker is unreliable.
“I'll be waiting there for 20 to 25 minutes after class until the shuttle comes," she said. "It's supposed to come at the top of every hour."
Despite this, Mandel is grateful for the shuttle drivers who transport her to and from the SMFA.
Tufts is planning to further improve the shuttle system by reducing its environmental footprint with hybrid and electric vehicles over the next five to ten years.
“Tufts Transportation will be looking to more sustainable bus options as they become available," Savino said. "This current fleet runs on biodiesel fuel. We would eventually like to see a combination of biodiesel hybrid and electric buses serving the campus."