Prioritize students' safety: It shouldn’t have come to this
The Nov. 19 Joseph’s Transportation crash , which resulted in dozens of injuries and the tragic loss of Brandeis student Vanessa Mark, has brought the safety of University transportation operations into question. On Nov. 30, the Interim Vice President for Student Affairs Andrea Dine notified Brandeis students via email that the Boston/Cambridge shuttle would be suspended for the rest of the semester “while we investigate alternatives for this route.” Joseph’s is still being used for the Waltham shuttle.
This board appreciates the fact that the University has taken this measure to suspend the route temporarily. However, it brings into question why the safety of Joseph’s service was not investigated earlier. The identity of the Joseph’s driver from the crash has not been released to the public, nor has the cause of the crash been determined. It has not been determined whether the crash was related to the driver or the bus itself, and the incident is currently under investigation by the Middlesex District Attorney’s office.
However, outside of this specific incident, several Brandeis community members spoke of Joseph’s drivers who they felt had driven the Boston/Cambridge route recklessly. Two students mentioned that they took the same shuttle route the night prior, and felt the driving was unsafe then too. One board member’s parent took the Boston/Cambridge shuttle during Parent’s Weekend in 2021, and said, “I remember the driver drove recklessly, was yelling at other drivers, and seemed drunk. I was uncomfortable.”
Though students had concerns for their safety while on the shuttle, it is one of Brandeis students’ — who live outside of a Boston T subway route — limited ways to get around the Boston area if they do not own a car. Though the commuter rail is an option to get to Boston and is close to campus, it costs $7 each way and stops running to Waltham after 11 p.m., leaving students out late on the weekend stranded without a means to get home other than expensive ride-share services.
Further, if a student frequently takes the commuter rail, the fares add up, and when faced with the option to take the rail or a free shuttle service provided by the University, the choice is obvious. It dismays this board that a service meant to help students put many in jeopardy and resulted in the loss of a life.
One major problem this board sees with the Boston/Cambridge service was that there was no way to report unsafe driving. Thus, if a student felt uncomfortable with some aspect of the shuttle service, whether that be driving, cleanliness, or timeliness, there was no way to officially document their complaints and/or experiences to Joseph’s or the University. This editorial board first recommends that the University, and Joseph’s, implement a way for students to provide driving feedback, if possible, in real time. The University could also create a rating system similar to Uber or Lyft, where riders rate their trip on a five-point scale, with a comment section.
Beyond the immediate safety concerns students face while on the shuttle, this board would also like to draw attention to the unreliable timing of the service — because, due to staffing issues, the shuttle service and the BranVan often do not show up as posted. Students cannot rely on the Branda app’s tracking service either, which does not track the vans precisely, nor are the trackers always on. Instead, students receive updates on the Escort Safety Service Instagram day- or hour-of, when they are relying on the shuttles or BranVans to get home from the city, or get to work on time. If students are waiting in Waltham alone at night, especially after incidents like the recent assault on the Riverwalk , they are left in a dangerous situation. This board has previously criticized the University’s response to these safety concerns on campus, in Waltham, and in the greater Boston area.
In light of recent events, this board implores the University to reconsider its staffing for the Brandeis BranVans and outsourcing for the Boston/Cambridge shuttles. Even more important, the University needs to ensure the buses are not only reliable, but safe. The University should be requiring, if they are not already, that ride services’ vehicles are regularly inspected and the drivers background checked, at the very least. This board hopes that the University seriously considers the issues of its own services and those it provides by outside contractors before offering them. Students should not have been put in danger for the University to start doing so.