The cold winter rain pounds against the windshield of a Towson University shuttle bus as it drives down an icy road on a Friday night. The shuttle rattles as it travels up York road in Towson,Md., then makes a hard left off of York road towards it’s next stop on Dumbarton road Once in the area, the shuttle makes a loud screeching sound as it comes to a halt.
Carl Williams, 74, grabs a lever near the driver seat and uses it to force open the doors. “Come on now, “ Williams says to two figures standing at the bus stop.
“You’re not gonna get any warmer out there.”
The two soaked students walk up the steps, flash Williams their Towson University photo id’s and walk to the empty seats near the back of the shuttle.
Williams then yanks on the lever and the door slams shut with a loud thud.
“It makes you feel important,” Williams says about his role as a shuttle driver.
Williams worked as a bus driver for the Maryland Transit Administration for 40 years before leaving to join the University’s shuttle service a few years ago. A man who enjoys driving, he said that the shuttle bus service is probably the best part about the campus.
“Imagine if there was no one willing to drive this bus on a Friday night,” Williams said. “Those two in the back would have had to walk all the way to campus in the freezing rain.”
On their website, Towson University estimates that more than 75 percent of their undergraduate student population regularly commutes to campus. In this case, commuting is defined as a student who lives off campus and travels regularly to attend classes at the university. Towson currently has 18,779 undergraduate students registered for classes, according to their site, which means more than 14,000 undergraduate students regularly commute to Towson.
In article published by the Towerlight, Towson’s student-run newspaper, Towson University has sold 7,000 commuter permits to student drivers, indicating that a good chunk of all the students that commute to Towson drive.
The number of sold permits has become an issue due to the fact that the university only provides 3800 parking spaces. As a result, most of the garages available on campus are usually full in the morning by noon, which becomes a nightmare for students looking to park their cars.
Tom Sneeringer, a senior at Towson, has dealt with the parking issue at Towson first hand.
“At the beginning of the semester it was a lot worse,” Sneeringer said. “For the first two days I arrived 20 to 30 minutes before class started and it took me about an hour to find a spot.”
Sneeringer said parking early in the semester is particularly bad for him because he lives an hour away from campus. Meaning, he has to leave his home roughly two hours before his class starts.
“It’s definitely a different story for other students that are closer in proximity to the campus,” Sneeringer said, “but just because your close doesn’t mean you can underestimate the rush so definitely leave early.”
However, not all students are affected by the morning rush to get parking.
Ruslan Zelentsov, an international student, is one of the 3,700 graduate students at Towson who also regularly commute to the campus in the evenings.
“If I need to be somewhere on time ill drive, but if I don’t and I feel like saving gas i’ll take the shuttle,” Zelentsov said.
For new commuters, Zelentsov recommends that they look at the online bus information that allows students to see the routes and schedules.
“It’s really convenient,” Zelentsov said. “It’s cool to be able to see when your bus will arrive in real time.”
When asked whether or not he thinks students should drive or take the bus if they have the option, Williams says it’s really up to the student.
“Some students drive to campus because they enjoy the independence and the flexibility while others take the bus because it doesn’t cost gas money,” Williams said. “It’s all really about how you use it around your schedule.”
Williams said that if students study the routes correctly, they can get a free ride to anywhere in the Towson area outside of the campus. he said what really impressed him the most about the bus system was simply that it was free which he says isn’t very common.
“I’m glad all this stuff is free,” Williams said. “It would be pretty inconvenient for students to have to pay for school and have to pay just to get there.”
The bus comes to a stop on Cross Campus Dr., right in the heart of the University Campus. Williams yanks the lever and the doors fly open.
“Stay warm and have a nice evening,” he says to the students as the walk off the shuttle. Minutes later the door slams shut and Williams drives off into the chilling night to meet the next student standing in the rain.