Students find improvement in RamTram service over past year

Many students interviewed by The Gatepost agree the RamTram has been more punctual this year compared to past years. 

Coordinator of Transportation Services Kim Galvani said she wants the FSU community to know the Student Transportation Center (STC) is working to provide the best possible service to  students and staff.

According to Galvani, STC leases its vehicles for $60,000 from the MetroWest Regional Transit Authority (MWRTA), “which is great because it includes a service fee, so mechanical issues and things like that [are covered].” She said FSU’s total transportation budget for fiscal year 2020 is $534,390, but this is not exclusively for STC.

As far as big-ticket items go, the budget includes $78,858 for vehicle fuel, $8,500 for general health and safety services, and $2,000 for vehicle maintenance and repairs – though STC is requesting $12,000 for maintenance and repairs for FY20. 

The transportation budget also includes staff salaries in addition to office supplies, clothing, and food, which are not all specific to STC.

The RamTram staff consists of 35 student drivers and two full-time drivers – Tracy Baker during the day and Sheryl Jacob for second shift. Galvani said, “The biggest challenge is staffing, especially in the beginning of the semester.”

Galvani added, “This year was particularly difficult because we were very short-staffed at the beginning of the semester, but we’re fully staffed now – minus a few open shifts.” 

She said, “It has made a big difference in wait times for students.”

Galvani explained the hiring process is “quite lengthy,” so getting students prepared earlier rather than later is ideal. She said she tries to start recruiting for upcoming fall semesters during the spring, so she can have some kind of idea what the staff will look like in the fall and avoid scrambling to get drivers.

Galvani stressed the importance of safety when it comes to driving for STC. She holds monthly safety meetings and also said the driver hiring process “includes a DOT [Department of Transportation] physical, a drug [test], a background check on their driving, and then, of course, training.” 

She said all drivers are also “subject to random drug tests,” and ensured all drivers passed.

“At the beginning of a shift, the [drivers] have to do a pre-trip” due to DOT regulations, said Galvani. “They have to walk around that shuttle and make sure that it’s safe to drive.” 

She said it can add an extra five minutes to wait times, but it is mandatory as drivers are just trying to ensure the safety of all riders.

According to Galvani, one of the challenges she faces with a mostly student staff is students are only allowed to work 20 hours a week on campus. STC operates 521 hours a week and 20 hours a day. 

Galvani said she balances hours based on “ridership.” Drivers take tallies of the number of people they’re picking up at each stop. STC then uses these tallies to identify lower rider times when fewer trams are needed.

Galvani said, “Sometimes, we’ll get requests for extra shuttles.” For example, she said recently, a professor needed to get students to Juniper Hill School for the Blocks Preschool Program and the RamTram provided that transportation.

“When the Danforth art classes were [first] held across the street, we had to shuttle students there,” she added. With that, scheduling routes needed to be adjusted. 

Galvani explained if there is a shuttle taking students somewhere off campus by request, that takes a parking lot’s tram off its loop. She added there have been “a lot” of requests for extra commuter rail runs.

STC is also trying out a new way to get in touch with riders.

Galvani said, “We’re trying to do a big social media blast.” She said staff members will be able to post updates regarding the RamTram schedule. For example, if there are delays due to flat tires or construction students can be informed via social media.

She added, “On the FSUgo app, we have a shuttle concern form that you can fill out and it’ll come to us and we can address the form.” 

The shuttle concern form has been available to students, but it was previously only avalible at the STC desk. Now that it is online, it is more convenient for students to express their concerns, according to Galvani.

Junior Austin Sylvester said, “[The] RamTram is reliable. I feel it’s always pulling up to either Bement or the lots as I get there. I haven’t had any problems being late.” 

Freshman Isabella Kondi said, “I think the RamTram is reliable when going to parking lots, but not really with all the other locations it accesses. The RamTram doesn’t go to the train station as often as it goes to the mall or Shoppers World.” 

Kondi said she knows professors and students who use the train to get to school, so more trams to that location would be helpful.

Junior Kerri Morse said she believes the RamTram is sometimes convenient. Morse said as a commuter, it’s helpful on rainy or snowy days so she doesn’t have to walk up the hill every day. 

However, she added, “It’s more of an issue in the mornings when a lot of people are getting on. People pile in, and it’s kind of scary riding on it with way too many people. I feel in the mornings, it needs to definitely come more frequently for the commuters.”

Sophomore Meghan Croteau said in regards to the parking lot tram, “It sometimes doesn’t show up every 15 minutes, so that’s kind of annoying when I need it to go to my car for work.” 

However, Croteau said she “loved” the tracking feature on the FSUgo app. 

Croteau also raised safety concerns. She said it was “annoying” there is only one shuttle stop and it’s located at the edge of campus. “Sometimes, I’m walking by myself, so that scares me at night a little bit.”

Junior Marissa Dias said she believes the RamTram is reliable “to get from point A to point B.” 

Despite this, she added, “I don’t believe it runs on time, and it’s not reliable if you need to be somewhere at a certain time. I use the tram to get to and from my car a few times per week, and I have had to wait upwards of half an hour just to get back to campus even when I call the desk.”

Dias expressed concern for how “packed” the trams get and agreed there should be more trams running on the same loop.

Sophomore Sarah Burke said, “Three days out of the week, I work at 7 a.m. at an elementary school in Ashland, so I need to leave campus around 6 a.m. When I get [to the shuttle stop] I am usually waiting 10 minutes.

“Though, there have been times when I have gotten there and it hasn’t come until 6:30, and it’s annoying because I only have so much time to get to work.” 

Sophomore Chester MacAskill said in regards to the FSUgo app tracking feature, “There’s just no need for it. I would hope that it’s constantly going, so there’s no need for me to consistently check it.”

Junior Alivia Pimental said, “I don’t like [the tracking feature] because it’s never accurate when I go on it.” She said STC should work on monitoring the app to make sure it’s always accurate.

Junior Madison Trundley said, “I use [the FSUgo app tracking feature] whenever I go to work. I like to use it to schedule my timing.” She suggested STC should send notifications on the app for when they are switching drivers, so students are aware they’ll have to wait a longer time when they go to get picked up.

Sophomore Jared Carey said he believes the RamTram is reliable and “super convenient for students.” He added he “never ran into any problems with it” and expressed interest in STC’s social media blast, saying he believes it will be “very helpful.”

Galvani said STC is working on improvements.

She added, “We want to provide the best service. I have a fantastic staff. I’m so thankful and grateful for the students I have.”