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1 September 2011

Bussing a Move

by John D. Muccigrosso

My employer, Drew University, has just announced a lovely new shuttle service for students. The MAD (Madison Avenue Direct) is a joint venture with our academic neighbors Fairleigh Dickinson University and the College of St. Elizabeth, along with the Borough of Madison and TransOptions. It'll provide transportation between the three schools and Madison's Main Street businesses, including some that are a bit too far to walk comfortably, especially if you're at FDU or St. E's. On MapMyRun I make this out to be just short of a 10 mile loop.
So a few things:
  1. The route is scheduled for 46 minutes, which makes it an average of 13 mph. I'll trust that somebody has actually run it and that works. Problem is that every run of the shuttle is scheduled for that time. Do these people not know about the after-school Mom/Minivan rush? I suspect there will be some tweaking fairly soon.
  2. It will cost $1.50 after a two-week period in which it will be free. OK, not too bad, though I wonder if that will discourage anyone. OTOH...
  3. The shuttle seats 15, so it won't take too many people willing to pay the buck and a half to fill all the seats. OTOH...
  4. 15 is pretty small and if this gets popular at St. E's or FDU, there may not be room for Drew students, which will be fine for the shuttle, but not so fine for the Drewids.
  5. Last but not least, they expect that the service will eventually pay for itself. So some math. Let's assume that every trip gets 15 people on each leg, to and from downtown. There are 10 trips a day during the week, so 15 person/trip * 2 legs/trip * 10 trips/day * $1.50/person = $450/day. The driver makes, say, $10/hr for an 8-hr shift, or $80/day. Add in taxes, and let's call it $100. Gas? Let's give the shuttle 20 mpg for 1 gal/trip or 10 gal/day or $40. So that's $450 - $140 = $310/day. Saturday runs at half that, so a week is $310*5 + $155 = $1,705/wk or $6,820/month or about $45,000/academic yr. Insurance? IDK. Gotta be more than a car, but how much? I have no experience in this, but let's call it $300/month or $2,400/yr, for $42,600/yr. Seems pretty good.
    But what if I'm being too generous?
    Let's pay the driver more, $15/hr. And let's say the average ride only has 10 people. And gas mileage on the shuttle is 10 mpg. Total: $300 revenue - $150 driver's pay - $80 gas = $70/day, $385/wk, $1540/month, $18,480/yr. Make the insurance $500/month or $4,000/yr, and that leaves $14,480/yr.
And then I wonder, how often do you buy a new shuttle?

It all seems awfully close to me. I'll make two guesses:
  1. The outside funding available in the beginning will be key, and the operators will know by the time that ends whether the service is sustainable economically at the current price.
  2. Summer use of the van is what will push this deal over the top, if it does work. Or maybe even daily or weekend off-peak use. Regular student usage won't be enough and so you can't leave that expensive machinery sitting idle.
And a suggestion: with the Drew Pub closed this year, they're missing out on an opportunity to partner with local businesses on the weekend. $5 gets a student a bracelet to take as many rides as they want Friday and Saturday night.