Polar vortex, more riders complicate Northwestern shuttles


Lan Nguyen/The Daily Northwestern

Students board a Northwestern shuttle. The Frostbite Express Shuttle operates when the wind chill factor is below zero or during blizzard conditions.

Preston R. Michelson, Reporter

University Services cites increased ridership and icy roads as the cause of widespread shuttle delays that have left students cold and late at the beginning of Winter Quarter.

Communication sophomore Roberto Drilea had to be at Welsh-Ryan Arena at 4:30 p.m. on Friday — a day when it was raining in just-above-freezing conditions — for his job with the Big Ten Digital Network.

“The only way to get there was by taking the shuttle,” he said. “At about 4:05 p.m., I headed over to the shuttle stop by The Arch waiting for the Intercampus Shuttle, which didn’t come. At that point, I decided to wait for another shuttle, the Ryan Field Shuttle.”

Slippery streets, an increased number of riders and inclement weather have caused issues in the shuttle system, said Marge Grzeszczuk, University Services manager of support services. 

“It takes a little bit longer to get to destinations,” Grzeszczuk said. “We’ve been experiencing possibly up to 20 minutes worth of delays at certain times of the day.”

Drilea said he had to wait much longer than 20 minutes.

“The Ryan Field Shuttle was supposed to come at 4:28 p.m., but then that didn’t come either. So then I decided to wait for another Intercampus Shuttle that was to arrive at 4:41 p.m.,” Drilea said. “At 4:50 p.m., finally an Intercampus Shuttle showed up. I don’t know if it was the first one or the second one, but in the end I managed to get to work — late.”

Yet Grzeszczuk said University Services is taking precautions to ensure the buses remain on schedule.

“We try to make sure that the buses are warmed and running overnight in temperatures like this, so that they are able to start properly,” she said.

They are developing an upgraded shuttle tracking system, as well. University Services has a new GPS service provider and is working behind the scenes to get buses up and running, Grzeszczuk said.

“Going forward in January, we should have some continuing improvements with more buses showing,” Grzeszczuk said.

In addition, NUIT is working on an upgrade to the shuttle mobile app. Grzeszczuk expects it to be more user-friendly and to focus on personalized service. The expected release is in March or April.

Aric DiLalla, a Medill sophomore, stopped using the application.

“It’s kind of poorly taken care of and doesn’t really work that well,” he said.

On Wednesday, NU Shuttles tweeted they would err “on the side of running the Frostbite shuttles” in inclement weather.

Grzeszczuk said the Wednesday forecast originally did not meet the criteria for operating the Frostbite shuttle. Blizzard conditions, single-digit temperatures or a wind chill factor below zero is needed for the buses to run. Some students were left behind due to an unexpected increase in ridership during the cold weather, she said.

NU is required to decide whether to use the buses by noon the previous day. Next time temperatures are close to meeting the criteria, Grzeszczuk said, shuttles will run.

For now, students say shuttle times remain frustratingly inconsistent.

“They seem to be on time when you’re two minutes behind,” DiLalla said. “And they seem to be late when you get to the bus stop on time.”

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