Uni Cancels North Shuttle Bus; Remediation Work Prompted By Mobility Concerns
By Justin Hu (he/him)
AUT has discontinued its north campus shuttle bus citing low patronage and declining environmental and financial viability. The change has raised concerns from students with disabilities, who have told Debate the suggested replacement isn’t suitable for wheelchair or mobility users.
The university is recommending former users of the shuttle use the NX2 public bus service as a replacement — which drops off passengers at the Akoranga bus station, near the north campus. Concerns from students with disabilities have primarily centred around a dilapidated walkway on the roughly 600-metre walk between the bus station and campus. A north campus student, who previously used the service, said that the removal of the direct shuttle has resulted in needing to find alternate means of transport. The student uses a wheelchair.
“Without a direct connection, I am forced to use the NX2 and I have to use the walkway to get there. The walkway itself is extremely bumpy and a long walkway that’s quite uncomfortable.”
“The other big issue is when it rains, especially in winter. On those kinds of days, I would tend to avoid using the walkway and alternatively would have to get a taxi company to pick me up and drop me off. Otherwise, the lack of a direct connection changes my plans when I don’t absolutely have to go into the city campus or if the class is recorded,” the student said.
Rain shelter was part of the walkway’s original design but hasn’t been maintained in the past few years. AUT says that remediation work is necessary on the walkway to improve accessibility, and that support is available for affected students.
The student continued: “Though I am looking forward to a more accessible walkway, it shouldn’t just be accessible now that there isn’t a shuttle, it should’ve been accessible in general anyways.”
Debate spoke to another student who is reconsidering whether to study at the university as a result of the removal of the service. “With my mobility issues the lack of a shuttle bus to the north campus will be a major barrier to my intended DHSc degree [...] and would seriously make me reconsider which university I apply to,” said the prospective student.
The prospective student also said AUT should also be conscious of the effects on faculties lacking in disability representation when making decisions about transport accessibility. Previous disability and north campus student reps, Michael Kanara and Kelsey Cornthwaite said the university had presented them with a case for a reduction of service last August. Both said they understood the reason for the service’s cancellation though they raised concerns about the campus’ walkway accessibility at the time.
In a statement, AUT spokesperson Alison Sykora said that the introduction of the more frequent NX2 means the shuttle is no longer viable.“Less than six percent of the north campus shuttle trips broke even and almost 60 percent of trips did not have enough passengers (6) to be environmentally sustainable,” Sykora said.
AUT said the walkway “would benefit from improvement” and that remediation work would happen towards the end of 2021. AUT also cited that non-slip pads were being installed as an interim fix.“To ensure current and future impacted students do not face accessibility issues when travelling between campuses to attend classes, travel vouchers for alternative travel options have been made available, these are available in the Student Hub,” AUT said in a follow-up statement.
Though the university has not recommended it, students and staff are also able to take the 923 bus from the Mayoral Drive bus stop which connects more directly with the north campus at street level. However, the bus has a longer journey time than the previous university-run shuttle, as a result of running more indirectly.
Current student disability rep Margaret Fowlie said that the decision was made prior to her election to the role, but that she understood the university’s reasons.
“The removal of the AUT shuttle is understandable considering the significant financial loss it was running at. I am very much open to feedback from students around the accessibility of the walkway to the NX2 bus and if it is safe and accessible from their perspective and if there is anything they would like improved,” said Fowlie.
The current north campus student representative did not respond to requests for comment.