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UT students struggle to get to campus as CapMetro app and labor shortage cause bus delays

A CapMetro bus stop and sign for Routes 411 and 670, the UT shuttle
Patricia Lim
UT shuttle bus delays have caused issues for students who live in Riverside.

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Some UT students who live in Riverside couldn’t get to class this week because of delays with the Capital Metro shuttle.

While many UT students live in West Campus and can walk to class, Riverside offers an escape from the rising costs of living for many low-income students, who are often people of color. But in return, these students have to find a way to campus, and many rely on the free shuttle.

The service provides three routes to Riverside: 670, 671 and 672. On Tuesday, CapMetro’s app showed the 670 was canceled all morning.

Dottie Watkins, CapMetro’s chief operating officer, said there was a glitch in the app and that the 670 was still running, although buses arrived about once an hour rather than the usual 15-20 minutes.

She also pointed to ongoing labor shortages as part of the reason buses have been delayed as classes returned to in person this month. Watkins said CapMetro has increased pay to attract new employees and that about 60 drivers are currently in training.

Mariah Sanchez, a student who lives in Riverside and relies on the 670, posted about the bus delays Monday. Her posts turned into a movement of students from the area demanding better equity from UT and CapMetro. The delays have caused Sanchez a lot of anxiety and made planning her days on campus difficult.

“If we miss the bus, then we get penalized, and our grades suffer because of it,” she said. “And it’s just plain discrimination because it’s not up to us, we are not making these conscious decisions. We are affected by the decisions of the university, of the city, and we’re expected to carry that burden.”

Sanchez said the students are calling for leniency from professors with mandatory attendance, for professors to record lectures and for UT to renegotiate with CapMetro. She said the group is meeting this weekend to workshop their demands. Some of the members planned to voice their concerns at the College Student Commission today.

“I'm specifically tired of low-income and oftentimes people of color at the university not getting the same access to resources as our wealthier white peers,” Sanchez said. “I feel like there's a complete lack of support to people that live in Riverside.”

Watkins said she wasn’t sure if the Riverside area has been disproportionately affected compared to other areas in the city. She added that the errors on Tuesday reflected “really poor service” and that CapMetro has been working to fix them and apologizing to affected riders.

“We made a mistake and we know it impacted their lives,” Watkins said. “We know we have to do better, and we've already taken steps to make sure that we do better going forward.”

In a written response, UT pointed to a Jan. 11 announcement from Executive Vice President and Provost Sharon Wood that asked faculty to provide “flexible accommodations” to students when classes resumed. Eliska Padilla, the issues and communication manager, said the university is communicating with CapMetro about the delays and that UT understands the “impact” the delays are having on students’ commute.

While the coalition of students is pushing for more reliable transportation, they don’t want it to end there. The group set up tables on campus this week to speak with Riverside residents and collect data about different issues affecting them.

“A lot of people in our survey said they felt isolated from student life,” Sanchez said. “I just hope that this movement brings people together and we can advocate together for a long period of time.”

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