More traffic, more risk

UI, ISU campus buses log many miles, few accidents

Diane Heldt
Published: September 18 2013 | 5:30 am - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 8:36 pm in
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IOWA CITY — The return of thousands of students to college campuses each fall means more pedestrians, more vehicle traffic and more safety issues for campus bus systems.

Iowa State University’s CyRide bus system has had zero accidents involving pedestrians since 2008, while the UI’s Cambus system has had five in the last five fiscal years, according to data provided by the two systems.

A UI student who was struck by a Cambus on campus in September 2011 recently filed a lawsuit against the driver and the university. The suit says the student was allegedly using a crosswalk when she was struck. A pedestrian also was struck by a Cambus on Clinton Street near campus in May 2013.

The University of Northern Iowa does not run a campus bus service.

Cambus has filed accident reports for 126 accidents in the past five years. The UI tracks them by fiscal year. The lowest number was 17 in 2013; the greatest, 38 in 2011. During that time period, Cambus averaged approximately 850,000 vehicle miles per year.

Many smaller accidents each year — bumps or brushes that happen when moving buses at the maintenance facility, for example — aren’t really tracked, Cambus manager Brian McClatchey said. Cambus does keep track of what they call “DOT reportable” accidents that are more significant, he said. Those accidents involve injuries or another vehicle, he said.

CyRide tallied 130 vehicle accidents in the past five years, tracked by school year — lowest number, 19 in 2012-13; the highest, 38 in 2009-10, said transit director Sheri Kyras. Those figures do not include minor accidents, like gate arms coming down on top of a bus, she said. The CyRide system averages 1.5 million miles a year.

The majority of the accidents tracked were cars rear-ending buses, bus mirrors touching as they passed each other or collisions with another vehicle during snowy weather, she said. Every accident is reviewed with the driver and via footage from the on-bus cameras, she said. Accidents also go to a peer-review committee.

“If there is training opportunity, that driver could be required to go through some additional training, if that’s warranted,” she said.

CyRide has about 130 full- and part-time drivers, about 60 percent to 70 percent of them students, Kyras said. In a typical year, CyRide hires 40 or 50 new drivers because of turnover. They have a series of three training programs with instructors that total about 120 to 140 hours.

All Cambus drivers are college students. The system has about 170 student employees, about 140 of them drivers. Cambus drivers get a Class B commercial driver’s license and go through 40 to 50 hours of training — or more, depending on the trainee.

Training includes time spent driving in a parking lot under the supervision of a trainer and then driving a route with passengers, also with a trainer present. There is about 50 percent turnover each year, so Cambus hires and trains about 80 new drivers every year, McClatchey said.

He said that although Cambus accidents involving pedestrians are rare, it’s an issue that needs continual emphasis to remain at the forefront.

“In general, I feel very good about our safety and training record,” he said. “At the same time, I’d say there’s always room for improvement, and we’ve been trying to focus on that. We’re really going through a process now where we’re wanting to do more self-evaluation.”

For example, proper turning has been identified as an issue to highlight, so reminders and tips go out to drivers, he said. An informational booklet also was developed for drivers that spotlights the busiest intersections around campus, McClatchey said.

The popularity of cellphones and iPods means some pedestrians aren’t as aware as they should be, he said.

“We tell the drivers to be more anticipatory when pedestrians are in the area,” he said.

The start of fall semester is an especially busy time, with new students on the campuses and new drivers for the bus systems.

UI senior Jordan Nurre, 21, has been a Cambus driver for nearly three years. He said the increase in pedestrians and traffic at the start of the fall semester keeps drivers on their toes. Cambus often sends out safety reminders and other tips, to make sure drivers are being cautious, he said.

“Especially the first couple weeks of school. People are new to campus, and people are walking where they should not be walking,” said Nurre, a finance and management major from Delhi.

Ridership of Cambus and CyRide continues to increase, officials said. Cambus hit a record 4.5 million rides in fiscal 2013, while CyRide had nearly 6 million riders in fiscal 2012, the most recent year for which data was available.

The University of Northern Iowa contracts with the Metropolitan Transit Authority in Cedar Falls and Waterloo to provide the free Panther Shuttle for faculty, staff and students.

--- Gazette reporter Hayley Bruce contributed to this report.

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