At Senate on April 23, College Vice President and Dean of Students Sheilah Horton announced that the Peter Pan bus contract will be reconsidered, though it was unclear what that reconsideration will look like. Currently, Wellesley has a contract with the Peter Pan bus company to provide shuttle service to and from several stops around MIT on weekdays, as well as Harvard on weekends. The shuttle is free from Monday to Friday, and shuttle tokens cost $3 on weekends. Senators expressed hope that students will be allowed input in any contract renegotiations that may arise. However, they have not been told if this will be a possibility.
¨Students were complaining in many Senate meetings that the service of Peter Pan buses was inadequate,” Dean Horton said in an email to The News. ¨Many complaints were also sent to Peter Eastment, the Director of Transportation. This is a real concern for the administration, so we decided it was time to discuss other options before continuing with Peter Pan. We are issuing an RFP, a Request for Proposal, to Boston-area bus companies. These companies will review our schedules/service requirements and consider whether they are interested in submitting a bid or not.”
Crystalina Guo ´20 and Huzaifa Ejaz ´20, co-chairs of the Senate Social Life committee, have had multiple meetings with Eastment to discuss these issues. “We genuinely believe that the discussions in Senate, ongoing student activism, as well as the one-on-one meetings we have had with Mr. Eastment have contributed to this initiative that was a long time coming,” they said in a statement to The News. “The fact that the contract is being reconsidered is an indicator to us that our concerns are being heard. We’re hopeful that this reconsideration will result in an option that, succinctly put, serves the Wellesley students best. We hope that the chosen bus service offers a high-quality, reliable, contextually-informed, considerate and affordable service to the Wellesley community.”Eastment could not be reached for comment.
“Service will be the number one issue that will be talked about at the negotiation table,” Dean Horton said in Senate. However, she also said that she does not know much beyond that at this time. When asked in Senate whether an alternative transportation company might mean higher bus fares, she said, ¨I don’t imagine that we are going to be looking for something that’s going to cost more since students are already complaining about the current bus fare. But I can’t say for sure what that’s going to look like. But what I can tell you is that when we get to that point, students will be in the conversation.¨
The shuttle bus service that Wellesley provides is, aside from the expensive and far-flung commuter rail, Wellesley’s only link to the Boston and Cambridge areas. The school has been adjusting different aspects of the Peter Pan bus program since 2015, when the Peter Pan buses began to enforce its policy of taking only bus passes or tokens, not cash. The policy had existed in name before, but only began to be enforced then, according to a Wellesley News report on the issue.
Then, in September 2016, budget cuts led to the replacement of the weekend Peter Pan bus to the Natick Mall with the smaller, cheaper and more infrequent JFK van service. Over the course of the 2017-2018 academic year, various student complaints have emerged about the bus service. Many students have been left at bus stops hours longer than they expected, while sometimes buses don’t come to the expected stops at all.
In February of this year, a disagreement between a student and a Peter Pan driver led to that driver making the student leave the bus between designated stops. Though that individual driver was removed from his position, students’ worries about inadequate bus service continue.
Faith Davenport ’21 explained how, just this past Friday, she and a group of friends were left feeling stranded by the Peter Pan service. “It was last Friday, and it was the 5 p.m. Peter,” she said. There was a long line as she waited at the Lulu Chow Wang Campus center in the rain. She was one of the first people in line, but as the 5:00 bus pulled up, the driver informed her that he wasn’t letting anyone on, but he said they would be sending someone else soon.
“I stand out there in the pouring rain until 5:30, and there is no bus in sight. Around 5:40, finally, another bus pulls up. And he says, ‘Yeah, I’m not letting any more people on this bus,’ ” Davenport explained. The bus, she said, was mostly empty, which made her confused about why she and her friends couldn’t get on the bus. She speculated that it might have been the end of that driver’s shift. Eventually, Davenport and her friends made it on a bus, but it was 40 minutes late.
Ejaz and Guo, though they have been told very little about the upcoming process, expressed hope that students’ concerns will be heard during the possible contract reconsideration and added that Associate Dean of Students Carol Bate has been particularly helpful.
“We appreciate the fact that Dean Bate has taken our concerns seriously and has aided the process by taking discussions from Senate back to other administrators and advocating for action on our behalf,” they wrote in an email to The News. “We hope that conversations regarding transportation at Wellesley will continue, with both students and administrators.”
Horton said that service changes could be expected as early as next academic year, and student input is needed to make those service changes effective. ¨There are many questions about what students want and need in a bus service,¨ Horton said. ¨Is it comfort , i.e. air conditioning and bathrooms? consistency. i.e. number of buses on a route, or cost? Or all three? All of this must be balanced. We may send a survey to students to get feedback or use the House councils.¨