October 24, 2017

Highland Express Revamped–Increase Efficiency?

The Highland Express van. Photo by Nate McReynolds.

By Kaleigh Anderson ’21
Staff Reporter

The Highland Express, Gordon College’s beloved transit service, has been revamped into a shuttle system that closely resembles the popular taxi-service app Uber.

This new service utilizes the Transloc app in order to allow for custom pick up and drop off locations. In order to use this new service, one must download the Transloc app and make an account, where they may then request pickup and drop off locations. The new transit system runs Fridays from 3pm-11pm, Saturdays from 10am-11pm, and Sundays from 3pm-10pm.

Chris Jones, the Supervisor of the Highland Express, gives some insight as to who came up with the idea to upgrade the transit system.

“Jeff O’Brien, the fleet manager in Physical Plant, actually came up with the idea,” Jones says.

“As a side job, he offered to drive for the Highland Express when they really needed drivers and if they could not find student drivers. He found that he was doing MANY loops in the van with zero passengers and he thought, ‘there has to be a better way’. He did a little research and found TransLoc and brought it to my attention and we moved forward with it.”

The previous shuttle service operated on fixed stops and would run regardless of whether or not it had passengers, which, according to Jones, was a waste of gas. The new OnDemand system seems to potentially be a more efficient and cost-effective manner to provide transportation.

The Highland Express now drives directly to those in need of a ride once they request a pickup, which makes the shuttle a streamlined means of transportation—except during peak hours of usage. Jones confirmed that this service is very popular, which means that sometimes the wait can range from 1-2 hours. This can be frustrating to riders at times.

“I’m not sure if it’s more efficient,” says Emily McDougall, ‘20. “It definitely feels slower, but I think it’s better this year because you can request your own time. I’d rather do that than have to go on their schedule which didn’t always work for mine.”

Similarly, Jacob Michels, ‘21, seems to have had quite a positive experience with the new system. “The Highland Express [has been] very efficient,” Michels says, “and I’ve been able to get where I needed to go without a problem.” Though many are not excited about the occasional long delay due to high demand, students still seem to love this new, streamlined process.

Is the solution to this high demand to increase supply? A proposed solution to decrease the wait time is to add a second van. “Adding a second van would be expensive,” says Jones. “We may run some focus groups and surveys to find out if people would pay a nominal fee to help support a second shuttle during peak times to help the wait time be lower, but we have not made any decisions on this.”

The large variance in wait time is due to the fact that the Highland Express is a shared service. One student’s wait time will depend on the location of the shuttle, how full the shuttle is, and how many pickup requests have already been placed. There is no way to request a ride in advance, so the best solution may be to request a ride and plan accordingly.

One of the most cherished aspects of the Highland Express appears to be that it is a complementary service. College students on a budget are likely to be in favor of the expanded service areas and use of technology to request a ride, even if the wait time may end up being more substantial. Jones confirms that the Highland Express will continue working to improve the wait time during peak hours of usage and would value constructive feedback from students.

He also recommends the zipcars on campus as another tool that can be utilized by students as a means of transportation that is relatively inexpensive. For now, Jones and his staff will continue to assess the new changes made to the Highland Express.  

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