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Students say overcrowded CATA buses make winter travel hard

January 17, 2024
<p>An MSU student hops on a CATA bus on Jan. 24, 2022. </p>

An MSU student hops on a CATA bus on Jan. 24, 2022.

With a sprawling campus, Michigan State University can sometimes be hard to navigate for students and many turn to transportation methods like bicycles or buses. However, when winter settles in, the high volume of students using MSU's Capital Area Transportation Authority, or CATA, buses can make traveling a nuisance.

Human resources management freshman Keira Chapman said riding on CATA Bus 31's route was "uncomfortably crowded."

"The kind where all the seats are taken," Chapman said. "There's a handful of people standing up to the point where there's somebody touching you on like every side ... It’s just so unpleasant."

Chapman takes the CATA bus once a day. Although she’s happy students are utilizing the bus, there were times when she missed her stop because of how crowded it is. 

"Sometimes I just get uncomfortable when people are super close to me," Chapman said. "But that's a personal issue. It's like, you kind of have to expect that's going to happen on public transportation."

Recently, Chapman entered a bus to find all the seats taken and people standing crammed against each other. Riding the bus and being squished up against other students was not an enjoyable experience, she said.

Computer engineering sophomore Sanika Kapre also takes Route 31 often. As an international student, Kapre said using the overcrowded buses, especially during winter, was a cultural shock because she didn’t use public transportation that often in India. 

"During winter, the busses are running slow; they lag a lot," Kapre said. "I often get late for my classes, but I get it’s snowing so the drivers have to be careful about the people inside and outside who are walking. I just feel they need to improve the timings a little bit."

Kapre said CATA should increase the frequency of their buses, as well as the routes that go to Brody Neighborhood. She added that bumping into other people can be "kind of suffocating."

Kapre plans on taking earlier buses to avoid the crowds and arrive at her classes earlier during the winter.

"Hopefully, the Transit app works fine," Kapre said. "It’s misleading sometimes. It shows that (the bus) is going to be there in one minute, but then the buses never show up."

For exploratory preference freshman Elise Malachowski, who takes Routes 31 and 32 frequently, the overcrowding of buses is "annoying" and "frustrating." She suggested that MSU offer new bus routes and allow for the routes in the 20s — which students have to pay for — to be free for students in the winter.

"You want to be able to get to the place you want on time without having to worry about any restrictions," Malachowski said. "Sometimes you’re like, 'I know I’d get there if I walk.' So it’s taking away options that should be easy and safe, but then makes them not convenient and sometimes even unsafe if everyone has to stand or there’s a lot of people there."

CATA's Chief Marketing and Public Information Officer Lolo Robinson said in an email that CATA has received 43 documented complaints between Sept. 4 and Dec. 7 relating to overcrowding on buses, driver disposition, poor driving, missing a stop request and early or late departures. 

"While CATA is not aware of any systemic issues related to Spartan Service (30-series routes) or our urban routes that also serve MSU's campus (20-series routes) during the current semester, we acknowledge that these complaints are fairly common when temperatures drop and students increase their use of our services," Robinson said in the email. "On-time performance can be impacted by many different factors, including campus traffic, weather, accidents and boarding efficiency, among other factors."

Robinson said CATA is currently investigating reports of "data accuracy concern" with the Transit app and prioritizes rider safety. CATA will continue to work with MSU to accommodate riders, she said. 

Chapman said taking the bus is a time where she can relax. It doesn’t require as much "mental energy and focus" compared to walking or driving, which is why she likes it. But when a bus is overcrowded, the comfort is gone. 

"When there are so many people around me, I feel like I can’t take up space," Chapman said. "I feel like I can't have anything out either. I'm so aware of myself and how much space I'm taking up as well."

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