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The Struggle Bus: CATA Service Disruptions Impact Off-Campus Students

My least favorite part of the day takes place around 8:30 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I’m standing at the bus stop in front of The View in Toftrees after huffing and puffing my way up the stairs that lead down to my apartment in The Valley. I’m amidst a sea of people, all restlessly jostling each other to be the first ones on the bus. At this point, everyone knows what will happen to them if they aren’t near the front of the line. 

Three buses round the corner, seemingly more than enough to get everyone where they need to be, but the people at the stop know better. They hedge their bets: some scramble to the right side of the curb, some to the left, each hoping that one of the bus doors will swing open in front of them. That foresight doesn’t always save them, as they are prone to be boxed out by some overeager hooligan and pushed to the back of the line regardless. 

The bus stop looks like the lifeboat scene in Titanic. Each driver is fighting the urge to call out, “Women and children! Women and children!” as they prod their already packed buses to make room for just one more, and just one more after that. After the so-called “winners” are packed in like sardines and the buses pull away, they glance out the window to the unlucky few left behind at the stop, each resigned to being late to their 9 a.m. classes.

I can’t help but feel a bit guilty, as I’m in one of those buses, crabbing down the road and within an inch of its life. Then, I remember that I shouldn’t have to fight my way past other students just to get on a bus in the first place. 

CATA has had recurring issues for the past three years that, until recently, were easy to ascribe to outside factors and staffing shortages

Mind you, while I understood it, I wasn’t enjoying it. There were a few times last year when I walked home all the way from downtown because CATA’s late-night service stopped at 10 p.m. and I didn’t want to pay $40 for a price-gouging Uber. You could imagine that wasn’t too fun in January, with two inches of ice on the ground — I’m not exactly Michelle Kwan. 

The problem is that these issues have continued without a clear explanation why. CATA has removed its “staffing shortage” signs within the last few months, but its operations haven’t improved much. CATA buses are still few and far between during most hours of a typical school day. The ones that do show up will sometimes just do a California Roll through the stop, not bothering to actually hit the brakes and let people get on.

Other times, I’ve seen people have bus doors slammed in their faces so the driver could keep on schedule, even though there was plenty of room inside. Its services before football games have been so inconsistent that some buses would show up over an hour after they were scheduled to on the myStop app.

I have heard stories from other people who live off campus and have had the same unpleasant experiences. This is to say nothing of CATA’s on-campus service, which deserves an article of its own. It may seem like a minor issue, but students don’t need an additional source of stress planning hours of their day around getting on and off a bus after a long day in class.

If CATA has taken steps to address its problems, it has not done so in a timely manner. I have been living at Toftrees for the past four semesters, and CATA’s early-morning service has been consistently poor the whole time.

I’ve defended Toftrees as a great place to live off campus before, and I still think it’s a nice area for underclassmen. But if you are looking for apartments for the fall, keep in mind that one of your only options to get to campus is unreliable at best.

If CATA is still struggling to hire drivers or improve its operations, then it should look internally to figure out what is going wrong. Until then, students are the ones paying for its shortcomings.

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About the Author

Adam Babetski

Adam Babetski is a senior double majoring in communications and medieval history, and is one of Onward State's associate editors. He's from the only part of Virginia without tractors and southern accents, except Richmond (reportedly). You can follow him on Twitter @AdamBabetski for hot takes about sports. For serious inquiries, email [email protected]

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