BSU bus drivers skeptical about MITS services

The Muncie Indiana Transit System has proposed taking over the operation of the Ball State campus shuttle four times since 1995, most recently in 2001. Some say the proposal sounds too good to be true.

MITS estimates that the shuttle service costs Ball State $325,000 to $330,000 per year, and would charge the university $95,000 per year to run the buses the same hours as the current system.

MITS would purchase eight new buses for the service and would include an "unlimited access plan," allowing anyone with a valid Ball State ID to ride MITS buses free of charge anywhere in Muncie.

Due to an increase in passengers and vehicle miles that would accompany operating BSU shuttle services, MITS would gain significant increases in state funding.

"I don't know how they think they can do a better job than we do," said Deb Upchurch, a Ball State bus driver. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

"I don't think they would cater to the students, because they don't have to," added Mark Quakenbush, Ball State bus driver. "Ball State has to, because, in my opinion, students more or less run the campus."

Upchurch drives a bus for disabled students, and says she has dropped a student off at the student center and came back to find that MITS was over an hour late to pick them back up.

"[The students] have been stranded," she said. "They've missed appointments."

Upchurch said she is suspicious about MITS's motives.

"They see our crowded shuttle buses and drool about the money they could get," she said.

"If they could provide the same service and save Ball State money, I would have no qualms about it," Quakenbush said. "If it's better for the students, I'd be for it, but it might cost me a job.

"I think it would have to be under a long-term contract, though," he said. Quakenbush said he is concerned that MITS could raise the amount it charges Ball State after one year.

"The most recent proposal gives the price for one year, and says we would negotiate each subsequent year," said Larry King, MITS bus manager. MITS would actually prefer a long-term agreement, due to its investment in vehicles, he said.

King said that if an agreement was made with Ball State, BSU drivers would be "more than welcome" at MITS, as long as they meet the requirements for employment regarding licensing and driving records. Those drivers could continue with their same retirement programs, he said.

"They're not going to absorb me," said Upchurch. "I would never, ever work for MITS."

Quakenbush said he would not work for MITS either.

"I'm old enough that I don't mind doing my job, but I don't want to sweat about it," Quakenbush said.

He also indicated that many of his co-workers might not be hired by MITS because of the requirements.

"I would say probably 90 percent wouldn't be retained-- their standards are too high," he said.

Quakenbush was also concerned about how the quality of service for Ball State's disabled students could be maintained.

"Ball State does provide a tremendous service to disabled students," he said. "That's why a lot of disabled students come here."

"That's a valuable service that needs to be continued," King said. It would probably continue to be offered by the university in-house, he said.

Michigan State University entered an agreement with Capital Area Transit Authority to provide its campus bus service. Deb Osburn, a representative for MSU, said "ridership" and the number of routes have since increased. "It's been a very good partnership for us," she said.PP>]™-í(>+â-äg*+â-â+â-¦

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