Hyattsville residents can use Shuttle-UM, but many don’t know that
By ALEX MURPHY — In 2015, the city partnered with the University of Maryland’s Department of Transportation Services to give residents free access to the Shuttle-UM, but in recent years, fewer residents than expected are taking advantage of the complimentary service.
A possible reason for the decline in ridership was that Hyattsville residents may not have been aware of the service, such as was the case with Cathy Anderton, a six-year Hyattsville resident who recently found out about the service “when it came out in the paper.”
“It sounds like people aren’t aware of the opportunity to use the buses. I see them go through my neighborhood, but I didn’t know that we were allowed to use them or there was any way to sign up for that,” Anderton said.
The program was initially advertised in local newspapers, such as the Hyattsville Life & Times and the city’s Hyattsville Reporter. Both are mailed monthly to all city residents.
“More than 100 people signed up,” said Jake Rollow, the city’s public information officer. “In subsequent years, it was advertised less. We believed the program had a ridership, and focused on advertising other new programming. The fact is, there are literally hundreds of ongoing programs and services offered by the city. It’s cost prohibitive to mail a reminder of them to all residences every month. Therefore, we rely on the website.”
However, the city also failed to add the program to its website.
“We also made a mistake at the time we reduced advertising the program by mail; we did not post information about it on the city website’s transportation page,” Rollow said. “There was no reason for this. It was simply an oversight.”
Hyattsville City Councilmembers unanimously voted April 16 to extend the service for city residents through the end of this calendar year.
The extension of the program was proposed for the meeting, according to Hyattsville City Councilmember Tom Wright (Ward 3), because “the supporting documentation indicated a sharp decline in registered riders.” He questioned if it made sense to financially support a program that seemed to not have community interest.
However, he changed his mind after hearing that “more people used the service than were apparently registered.” The unanimous approval of the service’s extension meant that the city would spend $6,000 to continue its current use, which covers 1,000 passes.
Hyattsville resident D. Marshall opposed the extension, saying “the numbers don’t match the money … you don’t want to fund something that doesn’t reap benefits for the citizens.”
Wright speculated several reasons for the decline in ridership, including many residents not being aware of the passes’ annual renewal. He said he also heard that some riders were allowed to board without current registration and that a “quick glance of the pass was sufficient.”
Councilmember Paula Perry (Ward 4) said the money spent on the program isn’t much compared to the overall city budget, so it makes sense to continue it. Perry also said that there are residents who work at the university who don’t have transportation of their own, so Shuttle-UM is their only way to get onto campus.
“I know a couple of young kids. Even though they don’t go to college, they work at the student union. That would hinder them being able to get over to the university,” Perry said.
Wright said he hopes that through more advertising, residents will be more informed about the program and that will help the council better decide future funding for it.
“The City is committed to enhancing exposure to this service with the goals (a) to make all residents aware of this service and (b) be sure riders are aware that they need to annually update their registration,” Wright said.
Hyattsville residents can ride all the University of Maryland Shuttle Routes for FREE! Route 113 loops through Hyattsville, stops at the Prince George’s Plaza Metro, and then heads to the university. To get a pass to ride, bring photo ID and proof of residence to the City Building, 4310 Gallatin St., Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. Passes are issued the same day. Route maps and schedules are available at www.dots.umd.edu.