By all accounts, the Student Government Association’s (SGA) establishment of a free airport shuttle service during the Thanksgiving and Spring breaks of the 2009-10 academic year was a success. While there remained elements of the program that were open for greater improvement and streamlining, SGA managed to provide a tangible demonstration of how student government can practically meet a basic student need.
Poised to continue their productive initiative from the year before and build upon those experiences, SGA members took up the issue of Thanksgiving airport shuttles during last Monday’s legislative meeting. A planned adjustment to last year’s model, which would have instead routed the shuttles from main campus to the Lindbergh MARTA Station rather than directly to the airport, would have reduced the cost of individual shuttle trips and allowed for increased circuits between main campus and the local transportation hub.
But despite the approval of the SGA Finance Committee and the SGA Transportation Committee, the bill failed to pass through the full legislature. Suddenly facing opposition from legislators arguing against the plan to route the shuttles to Lindbergh station instead of the airport, the bill was instead amended by the full legislature to reflect this sentiment, remanded to the Finance Committee and left pending. This development came despite the fact that many legislators suddenly voting against the proposed Emory-to-Lindbergh shuttle were supporters of the original bill that passed in the Finance and Transportation Committees. Ultimately, SGA Vice President Adam McCall announced plans to run the shuttles to Lindbergh with money raised from College Council and the Residence Hall Association for Thanksgiving break, but with five less hours of service than was originally anticipated.
The primary argument against the Lindbergh plan insisted that such a route was redundant, as students already have the option of taking MARTA buses to Lindbergh station. Yet while this line of reasoning is substantively correct, it fails to override the potential benefits offered by the shuttle service as proposed in the original bill.
Chances are, the preponderance of students who would have availed themselves of the proposed shuttle service and did so in the past were fully aware of the options provided by MARTA. There remains, however, a number of reasons for students to elect to take the student government-funded service over public transportation. Many elect not to ride MARTA buses because they are frequently crowded — providing an added difficulty for those traveling with copious amounts of luggage — and, at times, inefficient. It is not unheard of for buses to miss their scheduled arrival time, leaving students stranded at stops. And when it comes to getting to the airport, a significant delay caused by waiting for a late MARTA bus to arrive could be a crucial difference in making a flight or missing it. Exacerbating this issue was MARTA’s September announcement that they would be cutting 440 miles of bus routes, including a modification of Route 36, which runs past Emory’s campus along North Decatur Road.
Also, the student-sponsored shuttles come with far greater accountability than MARTA buses. If these Lindbergh shuttles are inefficient or otherwise inadequate, there are student leaders ready and willing to hear concerns and modify future plans accordingly. Complaining about MARTA service, however, yields little more utility than would screaming into a black hole.
The MARTA train station is usually more punctual or predictable than the bus system, so organizing for shuttles to take students from campus to Lindbergh would mean a minimum of delays. The proposed improvements to last year’s airport shuttle system would have reduced the number of outside variables that would have carried with them the potential for delay. Atlanta traffic is notoriously difficult even during light travel seasons; prior to Thanksgiving, extensive delays have to be considered par for the course. By cutting out a significant portion of the trip to be traversed by shuttle, a delaying factor that could have imperiled timely student arrivals at the airport would have been remedied. Additionally, the much closer location of the Lindbergh station compared to the airport itself would have allowed for more frequent trips — perhaps the aspect of the service most vital to student needs.
We are disappointed that the bill was amended in its final stages, impeding efficient passage. The differences of opinion on this issue appear so minimal — and so late in emerging — that it is difficult to comprehend why the expressed desire of the student body for the continuation of an optimally efficient airport shuttle initiative could not win out. While there are several orders of business that SGA has the ability to take up, the recently-established shuttle service has quickly evolved into among their most worthwhile and well-known to students. Though the presently-planned Lindbergh shuttle program should prove a valuable resource for students, it still falls short of the plan originally drafted and already approved by the Finance and Transportation Committee. We hope that in the future, depending on the success of this Thanksgiving’s shuttle service, the SGA will fully fund what we believe will be an optimal solution to student travel concerns.
The above staff editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel’s editorial board.