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Texas A&M bus ID policy rarely enforced

From The Eagle

By Brooke West

Published: August 12, 2012

Texas A&M University Transportation Services has for months been advising riders on its off-campus bus routes that a student or faculty ID from A&M or Blinn College is required to use the service.

Yet, despite the notices posted at stops on the 10 off-campus routes early this year, the policy is rarely enforced, according to students, bus drivers and Transportation Services officials.

Underlying the posting of the small yellow signs was concern among student riders, who pay for the bus service, about non-students who avail themselves of it for free.

Peter Lange, the executive director of Transportation Services, acknowledges there are many issues that would arise with strict enforcement of the policy.

“We don’t check every stop, every time. That can slow entry to the buses,” Lange said. “It has crossed our minds as something to do, but we have already targeted those areas. We don’t have time to check every student, every ride.”

The university owns 80 buses for eight on-campus routes and 10 off-campus routes. The service is funded through a $70 student fee included in tuition and fees.

Lange said the department has received several complaints that ridership isn’t limited to just students and faculty.

“It’s 100 percent student funded,” Lange said. “We felt [posting the notices] was the right thing to do, based on the feedback.”

Officials with the transportation agency said some complaints stemmed from the behavior of middle-school and high-school students who would frequently make other riders uncomfortable.

Signs were first placed in “problem areas,” near A&M Consolidated Middle School and Bryan High, Lange said. In order to be consistent, signs were eventually placed at every stop, he said.

Bus drivers — students who must be enrolled in at least nine credit hours at Texas A&M, Blinn College or Sam Houston State — have not been instructed to check IDs, transportation officials said.

Michael Hancock, an Aggie parent, said he worries about the safety of his daughter on the buses. Hancock submitted a letter to the editor to The Eagle in March voicing concerns that non-students are often allowed to ride.

Hancock took notice when the first yellow signs went up at the stops.

“You can put signs up everywhere, but if you don’t enforce it, it’s just another sign,” Hancock said. “If they aren’t monitoring, I think that can be a problem down the road. What’s the point of putting them up?”

Lange said the signs are intended to serve as a deterrent.

“A fairly good part [of implementing the notices] relates to capacity. We have capacity issues with folks who are paying and folks who aren’t. This is not Brazos Transit,” Lange said.

The Brazos Transit District provides transportation to all of Brazos County. The fare is $1.50 and includes a free transfer. Texas A&M students can ride for free if they provide a student ID.

Wendy Weedon, director of marketing and quality assurance for Brazos Transit District, said the service does not compete with Texas A&M’s transit service.

“I think a lot of it is that A&M tries to cover spaces that we don’t cover. And [non-students] have always been able to board the A&M buses for free,” Weedon said.

Jacob Boaz, a student bus driver for three years, said he and a few fellow drivers don’t deny service to non-students who don’t cause disturbances.

“The policy is really not that well-enforced, but it does give us the ability to say, ‘Sir or ma’am, I need you to leave,’” Boaz said.

Jeremy Garcia, a junior human resource development major, said he takes the bus to class every day and is happy with the new disclaimers.

“A guy had hopped on the bus that robbed a bank. With things happening nowadays, it’s a safety precaution. We pay for those fees, and it’s for our safety. It’s as simple as that,” Garcia said.

On Dec. 2, students were alerted with a “Code Maroon,” a safety alert sent out by the university, that a robbery suspect might have boarded a bus in the area near University Oaks Drive.

University Police Lt. Alan Baron said buses in the area were stopped and searched for the suspect.

The suspect was never found, Baron said.

“[The signs] will provide some deterrence, but it’s going to take persistence from employees to check those IDs and make sure policies are followed,” Baron said.

Lange said this incident could have been used to springboard the process of adding the new signs.

If drivers feel that there is an issue on the bus, there is sufficient technology on each bus to ensure student safety, Lange said.

“All buses have two-way radios and an alarm that will flag dispatch. There are eight cameras on every bus ... that can be accessed on an incident-need basis,” he said.

Kobie Jones, a senior economics major, has been driving the buses for over a year.

“I can see how some students might not want non-students to ride since it’s part of their tuition,” Jones said. “I would assume that it would deter people who aren’t students. [Transportation Services] haven’t told me that I need to check IDs or anything like that. The signs haven’t really made a difference yet, but it’s still pretty early in the program.”

http://www.theeagle.com/article/20120812/BC0103/120819888/1006/BC0103&slId=12