Study may lead to MTD contract renewal

A large group of students attempts to squeeze onto the 22 Illini on Feb. 16. The C-U MTD and the University will not begin negotiating until a campus traffic study is completed. Erica Magda

A large group of students attempts to squeeze onto the 22 Illini on Feb. 16. The C-U MTD and the University will not begin negotiating until a campus traffic study is completed. Erica Magda

By Angelina Cole

The Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District is looking into renewing its service contract with the University before the current contract expires on August 19, 2008.

Negotiations will only begin after the completion of an ongoing study analyzing how MTD buses are moving people through campus, concentrating on where riders board and exit the buses. The study will give University administrators and MTD staff a better idea of how to run buses through campus and keep the safety of the campus community at the forefront of the service goal, said Pam Voitik, director of campus services at the University.

“We want to provide good service but service that is also safe,” she said.

Two recent student deaths as a result of accidents with MTD buses have piqued the interest of the campus community, students and administrators alike in pedestrian safety, but Voitik said it is unfair to only target the MTD.

“The two incidents that did occur could have just as easily been motorists and not bus drivers,” she said. “It could have been someone in a University vehicle, it could have been another student, it could have been a faculty or staff member on their way to a meeting.”

Voitik said any impact on the University’s contract with the MTD following another such incident would require a critical analysis.

“I can’t say how we would respond not knowing the circumstances around it. We don’t want to have anything like that and we’ll do everything we can to minimize conflicts to lessen the likelihood of that happening,” Voitik said. “Can we prevent it one hundred percent? I don’t know.”

University spokeswoman Robin Kaler said that another student death would not have any influence on the contract with the bus system.

“A death, as tragic as it is, is not a breach of the contract per se,” Kaler wrote via e-mail. “Of course, we have worked cooperatively with the MTD and the cities on issues of pedestrian safety. Many initiatives have been launched blending education, enforcement and engineering.”

Voitik has worked with the Division of Public Safety, the Office of the Chancellor, the Office of the Dean of Students, the Office of Student Affairs and the MTD to get the word out about pedestrian and student safety.

These initiatives include new street markings, the bike paths around campus, and a standardized design for cross-walks.

The MTD has also widely advertised its own safety campaign.

“We’ve worked with the University on the iStop, iLook, iLiveUp campaign, in addition to the messages in front of the buses to remind people to keep themselves safe,” said Tom Costello, assistant managing director for the MTD.

Possible changes as a result of the study and potential renewal of the contract may include consolidated bus stops, which would result in fewer buses moving around campus at any given time.

“There are a certain number of (buses) that need to be here because they bring students, faculty and staff into the campus,” Voitik said. “But we may find that there are a certain number of (buses) that don’t need to be there because they just go through campus.”

No concrete changes will be made until the study is finalized. It is scheduled to be completed in December. Student, staff and faculty safety remains the priority of both the University and MTD, Voitik said.

“I don’t think (the MTD) wants to deal with what they’ve had to deal with in the past … ever again,” Voitik said. “I think we have strong motivation to come to an agreement so that will never happen again.”