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Students express concern about possible transit restrictions this fall

A Chapel Hill Transit bus approaches Franklin Street on Wednesday, June 24, 2020 after the new safety regulations due to COVID-19 had been implemented.

Many questions remain about the return to campus this fall — but Chapel Hill Transit’s current 10-passenger capacity limit has some students concerned that they won't be able to get to class at all this semester. 

According to an email from Brian Litchfield, in addition to the 10-passenger limit, those riding the bus are required to wear masks and maintain distance from one another. Buses are also sanitized at least twice a day.

Litchfield said safety will continue to be a priority for the system, and cleaning, social distancing and mask requirements will likely continue well into the fall.

He also said communication with the University plays a critical role in Chapel Hill Transit’s fall decision-making. 

“We’re working very closely with the University on developing our plan, and are geared around the safety element,” Litchfield said. “This is something that people in their life in general are taking for granted, that we’ve not dealt with before.

In an email, Cheryl Stout, UNC’s director of Transportation and Parking, confirmed that Chapel Hill Transit and UNC officials are partnering to develop “service scenarios” to support UNC’s fall 2020 commute, and that planning, both for transit and parking, is “currently ongoing”. 

Kat Freydl, a rising senior comparative literature and anthropology double major, said via Facebook Messenger that they didn’t have enough notice to make plans to get a parking permit, and were planning on riding public transit to get to class.

Fredyl said for students who live far from campus or have to rely on public transit, especially for those with disabilities like themself, this policy isn’t just an inconvenience: it’s immobilizing. 

“To use myself as an example, if you looked at me I’d seem healthy, and not someone who necessarily needs to make the cut if more than 10 people are waiting, but in actuality I’m someone who has mobility issues and occasionally needs a cane,” they said. “And there are tons of people who are even more reliant than I am who I think could suffer from this policy.”

Fredyl said the transit policy would also disproportionately affect those with disabilities who live on campus.

Via Twitter, other on-campus students expressed their concerns, including many who live on South Campus, where students commonly take bus routes to class. 

In June, Carolina Dining Services reversed a decision barring students in Ram Village from purchasing on-campus meal plans. Some residents expressed concern that the rule would have disproportionately affected students of color, many of whom live in the Rams community. 

Angelica Quintero, a rising senior Computer Science major, also found out about the decision via Twitter. 

She said despite having a car at her off-campus housing, like many students, she won’t have access to parking on campus.

“If UNC is making us come back to campus to have class, then an alternative needs to happen because a lot of students don’t have cars or can’t afford on-campus parking,” Quintero said. “I feel like it’s unfair to expect students to accommodate what’s happening given that, you know, we are in the middle of a pandemic.”

Stout wrote in her email that UNC Transportation and Parking will be providing “more on-campus student options” for semester and daily parking, and passes go on sale for students on July 6. 

According to the Transportation and Parking website, on-campus parking regulations are not in effect until August 3, when the permit year begins. 

Although accommodations for teleworking pricing, earlier weeknight parking and “increased on-campus parking options” are listed on the website, the number of parking options added was not specified on the website.

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Tiye Amen Hetep, a rising junior nutrition major, said with no car and a 2-mile commute to campus, public transit is her only way to class.

“How in the world am I going to be able to get to campus for the classes that I have on campus considering that they said there’s only 10 people allowed on a bus?” she said. “And I know that they said they’re going to have extra buses running, but how many buses can they afford to have running, and how will that work with the fact that everyone has classes at the same time?”

Litchfield said that although the passenger limit might increase by August, it may remain the same if safety concerns persist.  

“We’re going to have to maintain a limited number of people on a bus,” Litchfield said. “Now, will it be 10, will it be 15, will it be 20? We’ll make those decisions with the public health officials when we get closer to August, but those are things we’re going to have to do to keep everybody safe.”

Amen Hetep said considering Chapel Hill Transit among all of the other changing variables, she hopes UNC considers making all classes remote.

“UNC could make all classes online again,” she said. “I know a lot of students don’t want that, but I think that’s the safest way to do things, considering that there are some people who really depend on the buses, and students will only be needing to take the bus to class, on campus and off campus, if they had to get to class.”

Fredyl said although they are happy to see Chapel Hill Transit prioritizing safety, the possible effects of these policies are alarming. Due to what they described as a "lack of clarity" on this and other University decisions, they aren't sure if it's safe to go back to campus, bus ride or not. 

“I respect and am glad that Chapel Hill is considering the health of bus drivers and riders,” Fredyl said, “but it sort of seems like if something like that is necessary, we shouldn’t be flooding campus with students this fall at all.”


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