Students Reconsider Taking Public Transportation Amid Pandemic

wtbu · Students Reconsider Taking Public Transportation Amid Pandemic

By Melissa Ellin


Those returning to campus in fall will find it much different than previous years, and those coming for the first time will have to reevaluate their expectations. Dormitories, dining halls, and classes will all have changes; and so will transportation.

There are a plethora of methods to get from one end of Boston University’s campus to the other. There are typical college transportation options, such as walking, biking, skateboarding and even the less popular scootering or driving, but because of the University’s particular location mainly on Commonwealth Avenue, students and faculty can also take advantage of RideShare apps, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, or BU’s very own bus system, colloquially referred to as the BU Shuttle or the BUS.

The MBTA Green Line B conveniently runs directly through BU’s campus, stopping at plenty of hot spots along the way, including Warren Towers, the George Sherman Union and West Campus dormitories. The MBTA 57 bus similarly travels up and down Commonwealth Avenue with frequent stopping points.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, the MBTA has required passengers to wear masks at all times and implemented increased sanitization of buses, trains and high-contact points at stations. The MBTA has also been running on a reduced schedule and only started adding more rides when Boston entered phase two of its reopening plan in June.

Yeelin Bacchus, a junior in the Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation, spoke to WTBU about her concerns regarding public transportation in fall. Last year, she rode the Commuter Rail and the Red, Orange, and Green Lines often in order to reach her internship location. This year, however, Bacchus said things will be different.

“I am not comfortable taking the T into Boston, as a mode of transportation into school, just because I feel like there’s no way to guarantee that it will be clean,” Bacchus said. “I know that the MBTA is working hard to make sure it’s clean to try to enforce mass, but it is, but it’s a public space.

“But, you know, the population of Boston expands so dramatically when the school year starts, and so many people will come back—not only students, but professors, other faculty members, admins—all those people who will be on the train. So there’s going to be a lot of people. It’s not going to be a particularly sanitary environment.

“And it’s impossible to escape contamination on the train. The seat you’re sitting on, a dozen people have sat on it; the railing, people have been holding. And people have been brushing up against you, and you can’t be certain if everyone is taking the necessary precautions unfortunately.

“And I don’t plan on taking the train. I am going to stay home and do classes remotely because that’s an option for me.”

While Bacchus has chosen to avoid transportation woes altogether by going remote in fall, some students are finding alternative methods of transportation that will provide safer travel at school. Ahnaf Eram, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences, said that while he would typically have no problems taking the T to and from class, he plans to bring his bike to school this year to ride instead.

“This year, I do not trust the MBTA that much for its cleanliness, so I’m gonna bring my bike,” Eram said. “And I’m just gonna use that to transport between classes or go to the FitRec and stuff like that.”

Ahnaf added that the BUS is potentially another, safer travel option for traversing campus, in place of the MBTA.

“Apart from the MBTA issue, I hope that BU makes makes the shuttle service more available to its students next semester,” Eram said. “Especially having, let’s say, having the shuttle bus come every 5 to 10 minutes, making it more available.

“Because back in the day we could jam so many people into one bus but now we cannot do that. So I hope that BU has a better and robust shuttle service next semester that enforces cleanliness and social distancing; also, like, enforces masks and gloves and stuff like that. That’d be awesome.”

According to the University’s Back2BU website, the BU shuttle will have a mask requirement for all passengers and mandate that riders board the vehicle via rear doors. The front doors will remain closed at all times to help keep drivers safe from the spread of the virus. Buses are set to be sanitized nightly, in addition to during peak service hours, and each bus will have a reduced passenger capacity for the upcoming semester.

Service for the BU Shuttle resumed Saturday with 30 minute service and from Monday forward will run the Comme Ave loop with 20 minute service.

For first-year students and first-time MBTA passengers, the pandemic has exacerbated tensions surrounding travel. Genesis Velasco, an incoming freshman in Sargent, is from Atlanta, Georgia. Velasco said that, while she has heard about MBTA services before, she has not had the opportunity to ride the T, buses or trolleys.

She said that while she plans to walk when and where possible, she is a work study student, and will likely need to use the T to get to work at times. She said that she hopes everyone respects the health and safety guidelines as much as possible for her own safety and that of her fellow passengers.

“I’m just afraid of precautions that people will take when they get on the T, especially students that come from out of state or international students that aren’t used to the strict guidelines that Massachusetts has in place,” Velasco said. “Because, for instance, in Georgia, it’s not required to wear a mask. It’s not required. It’s encouraged to social distance but you know none of it is enforced.

“So, I know in the Northeast, those things are a lot more enforced, but I’m just afraid of people going in there and not respecting those rules when they come from somewhere that don’t have those rules. As well as having so many people there, like the crowding and the congestion that is unavoidable because everybody’s trying to get from one place to the other. There’s a lot less people that are going to be dorming on campus. So I’m going to assume that there’s going to be a lot more commuters and a lot more people using the T.

“So it just makes it—especially for somebody who’s never ridden it before—it makes it a lot scarier to ride it, because it’s like, ‘Could you contract the virus? How old are they cleaning it?’  There’s gonna be so many people, so like how frequently are they cleaning it, and all those questions come into mind.”

Regardless of each student’s mode of transportation for fall, everyone will need to respect the BU face covering policy and are encouraged to socially distance when possible. Fall transportation and general on-campus operations will not make it through the pandemic unphased, but students, BU, and MBTA services are working to ensure as safe travel operations as possible.