UCSF Works to Enhance Safety of Campus Shuttle System

Patricia Yollin on August 05, 2011
Peter Davis, campus fleet and rideshare manager

Peter Davis, campus fleet and rideshare manager, stands in front of one of the new, larger “Aero Elite” shuttles on the Lime (C) line that include new seatbelts.

UCSF’s effort to enhance the safety of its campus shuttle system, in the wake of a recent fatal accident, is on schedule and proceeding smoothly.

“We’ve installed retractable lap belts on 39 buses and will have them fully installed on the rest of the fleet by the end of August,” said Kevin Cox, director of Transportation Services at UCSF.

Although seat belts are not required in buses, UCSF opted to make them available to passengers of the free shuttle service as one of the initiatives to promote transit system safety following an early-morning collision on July 14 between a shuttle and a tractor-trailer truck in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley neighborhood. UCSF psychiatrist Kevin Mack, MD, MS, was killed and others, including the shuttle driver, were injured.

UCSF Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann, MD, MPH, outlined the safety measures that would be taken in a July 20 email to the UCSF community. Cox and his team are working hard to carry out those improvements.

In the days following the accident, UCSF transportation supervisors met one-on-one with shuttle drivers. They reviewed the key safe-driver techniques employed in UCSF’s extensive training program — a program that takes at least a month and is reinforced by regular in-field evaluations. Most of the shuttle drivers have previous experience with mid-to-large-size passenger vehicles, and some have a public transit background as well, Cox said.

In the longer term, Cox said, UCSF Transportation Services will conduct a full review of every aspect of its shuttle operation to look at policies, procedures and practices and to make recommendations to improve the system.

“We’ll engage transportation experts from the UC system, targeting campuses with large shuttle services, and outside experts as well,” Cox said.

The campus shuttle driver on July 17 remains on paid administrative leave. The San Francisco Police Department is still conducting an investigation of the accident.

In the only other fatal accident in the campus shuttle program’s three-decade history, a pedestrian was killed in November 2010. That driver has been charged and the case is pending in San Francisco’s legal system.

Covering A Million Miles a Year

UCSF operates the largest shuttle system in the 10-campus UC system with 53 individual shuttles and 75 drivers. The seating capacity varies: 35 passengers on six buses, 30 passengers on seven buses and 22 passengers on 37 buses and 12 passengers on on three vans. Standing is allowed, Cox said, and that practice will continue since the shuttles, like city buses, are made to permit standing.

The vehicles, on average 4 years old, traverse 15 shuttle routes throughout the far-flung UCSF campus network. As they transport employees, students, patients and visitors from place to place, they make more than 2,100 stops a day.

“We cover 1,112,000 miles a year and there are 2.3 million annual shuttle boardings,” said Peter Davis, fleet and ride-share manager at UCSF for 31 years.

The UCSF transportation program’s vendor, Bay Area Bus Repair, is handling the lap-belt installation, which began on July 19. Davis said the University will spend about $138,000 - a little less than $2,700 per vehicle.

“Our feedback has indicated that our passengers are appreciative they’re being installed,” Cox said.

A dedicated “Am I Safe?” telephone hotline is also in the works. Signs advertising the hotline (1-888-AM-I-SAFE) will be installed inside and on the back of all shuttles, so that feedback - both positive and negative - can be expedited and addressed.

More information will be announced in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, people can still use the current online feedback form or call the general-purpose campus shuttle hotline, 415/476-GOGO, to offer their comments.

Photo by Susan Merrell