City Council debates participation in UMD shuttle program

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Hyattsville residents can ride the University of Maryland's Shuttle-UM for free, but not everyone is convinced the program is worth the cost. Photo courtesy of City of College Park

By SOPHIE GORMAN ORIANI — At the Dec 2. city council meeting, councilmembers discussed whether or not to continue the City of Hyattsville’s relationship with the University of Maryland (UMD) shuttle program, Shuttle-UM. 

Currently, the City of Hyattsville has a memorandum of understanding with UMD which allows Hyattsville residents to receive a pass to ride Shuttle-UM at no cost to residents. Route 113 goes through Hyattsville, although residents with passes could ride any Shuttle-UM route.

The cost to renew the shuttle program would be $6,000 for the 2020 year. Ridership has fluctuated over the five years since the program’s introduction in 2015, with a low of 42 riders in 2016, and a peak of 202 in 2018, after increased attempts to spread awareness of the program. In 2019, the city provided 152 passes to residents.

“The question is, is 152 riders considered significant?” said Tracey Douglas, city administrator, noting that the number of passes doesn’t provide information about how often a resident might ride. “We’re not really able to get data on that. … I would think that the frequency of ridership makes a difference.” 

UMD does not collect data on how often a pass is used. “There’s no real way for us to get data that would give us enough information to make an informed decision,” said Douglas, who suggested sending a survey to residents with passes, asking how often they use the shuttle.

Councilmembers seemed split as they discussed the issue for over 15 minutes, nearly a fifth of the evening’s council meeting.

Carrianna Suiter (Ward 2) expressed concern about the cost, given the relatively low ridership.  “For me it really … comes down to whether or not this is a good use of taxpayer money for the few folks who do make use of it, or whether there is a better way we could use that $6,000.”

Another concern was the short notification period for residents. If the memorandum of understanding isn’t passed, Hyattsville residents will be unable to ride the Shuttle-UM as of Jan. 1. 

“We owe [residents] some level of communication. … That’s probably the main thing that gives me pause.” said Kevin Ward (Ward 1). “We probably shouldn’t just pull the plug and walk out.” He expressed support for investigating a shorter-term agreement, perhaps for three or six months.

“This is exactly the same conversation we had about a year or two years ago,” Edouard Haba (Ward 4) said, noting the decrease in ridership from 2018 to 2019 as a reason to consider discontinuing the program.

Daniel Peabody (Ward 4) expressed support for keeping the shuttle program. “I have a hard time thinking about cutting down on transportation options right now, with a lot of investment going into developing the Route 1 Corridor, and particularly transportation in this area,” Peabody said. “Anecdotally, I have heard from residents that it is a valued program. … I would be in favor of continuing it for the year while we collect [more data].”

City council is expected to make a decision on the memorandum of understanding at the city council meeting on Dec. 16.

Hyattsville residents can receive a pass to ride the shuttle free by bringing photo ID and proof of residence to the Hyattsville Municipal Building, 4310 Gallatin Street, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m..

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