BY APRIL DOWNS — Have you noticed that red “Fear the Turtle” bus coming through Hyattsville during the last year or so? It’s the University of Maryland’s Shuttle-UM number 113. I first saw it come by my house on 42nd Avenue and briefly wondered where if I could ride it even though I am not a student. Then my child enrolled in College Park Academy (CPA). There was the same bus going right by the school, which opened this year in the old St. Mark’s School building on Adelphi Road. And the bus schedule fit his afternoon school schedule perfectly.
CPA administrators announced that students from Greenbelt were eligible to take the shuttle. I was confident we would be able to do the same.
Well, no. When I requested a pass for my son, university official Beverly Joy Malone emailed me to say, in part: “Good morning. … Hyattsville does not have a Shuttle-UM agreement so your son cannot ride it to CPA.”
And, without an association with the University of Maryland, I cannot even buy a pass. University faculty, staff, and students (as well as students from other universities) can ride free, with a valid ID. Campus visitors and other “non-affiliates” pay for the service, with rates ranging from $4 a day to $177 per academic year.
Hyattsville does not have the agreement Malone mentioned, though the cities of Greenbelt and College Park do. For an annual fee, each town gets up to 1,000 passes a year to distribute to people who provide proof of residency. With a pass, residents can ride Shuttle-UM for free even if they are not associated with the University. Greenbelt pays $4,452 for the annual passes and can renegotiate for more if those are used up. College Park pays $6,000 and can get more passes without additional cost. That is a tiny fraction of the university’s cost to run the shuttle service.
Hyattsville could negotiate a similar agreement for its residents at a cost to the city budget of $5,000 or less. If even 500 people applied, that would be $10 a year for each pass. The city could charge a small fee to cover the cost of administering this service.
Encouraging use of public transportation is a valuable policy for the city to pursue. It is better for the roads and traffic because it reduces car use. It is better for local businesses because it increases the pool of potential customers. It is better for the environment because it reduces our carbon footprint. And it is better for residents because the Shuttle-UM’s Route 113 has a different route and schedule than The Bus or any of the WMATA routes.
In January, the Hyattsville City Council discussed pursuing an agreement with Shuttle-UM based on a motion submitted by Councilmember Tim Hunt (Ward 3). It never made it to the agenda for a vote. In June, Jim Chandler, Hyattsville’s director of community and economic development, wrote a memorandum for the mayor and council describing the College Park and Greenbelt agreements.
Since then, several people on the HOPE listserv have indicated a strong interest in using the 113 shuttle. I am asking the Hyattsville City Council to once again consider making this valuable low-cost transportation asset available in our community. Please put this motion on the council’s agenda this fall for a vote. We need to catch that bus.
April Downs has lived in Hyattsville for 22 years. She works in Washington D.C. as an attorney and has three children.