As college life returns to San Francisco State University's main campus, a familiar routine for many students and faculty is back as well: waiting to cram into a shuttle bus for the brief trip to the Daly City BART station.
But until this week, when the university introduced a new line of buses, the disability centers on campus offered a fair warning to wheelchair users to avoid the shuttles and instead take Muni.
“In the past, more people have advised wheelchair users to use Muni because it's easier to get on and off the trains or buses,” said Catherine Kudlick, director of the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability. “The other shuttles were so small that you almost felt like the second there was a wheelchair on there, you had to clear out.”
SFSU contracted with transMetro to provide faster service between the campus and BART, introducing the larger and more wheelchair-accessible buses Monday, said Reggie Parson, SFSU's deputy police chief.
The shuttles replace smaller buses with lifts that would take up to 20 minutes to load a person who used a wheelchair, which created awkward experiences for the driver and rider, Kudlick said.
“It puts the drivers in a pressured situation when they see a line of 30 students waiting,” Kudlick said. “They have to think, 'How am I going to help this person with the wheelchair?'”
The lifts on the older shuttles would take more time to operate because they retracted underneath the buses, Parson said. As a result, would-be passengers with disabilities could in rare occasions be asked to wait for the next bus.
“I was asked to wait one time — the driver obviously didn't want to wait for someone [who would have] to stand up with a cane,” said Kudlick, who is vision-impaired. “He let somebody else on after me, and that felt yucky.”
To avoid these situations, the new shuttles are lower to the floor and equipped with Muni-like lifts that take from five to eight minutes to load a wheelchair user.
“The more you can normalize this stuff and make it not just about people with disabilities, the better,” said Kudlick, adding that the lifts could also be used for people with strollers or heavy luggage.
The improved shuttles share the same stops as other transit lines at 19th Avenue and Holloway Street and the Daly City BART station, Parson said.
“We worked with Muni, SamTrans and BART to ensure all the buses could fit together,” Parson said. “The BART station stop was expanded and an island was removed to make more room.”
The buses also carry more than double the passengers — 60 — as the old ones, Parson said, and were cost-neutral for SFSU. And riders are able to enter and exit through two doors instead of one.
Miguel Guerrero, a student sustainability coordinator at SFSU, said while the new buses are not completely environmentally conscious, they do run on compressed natural gas, which is a more energy-efficient option than regular fuel.