The Regional Transit System is promoting the launch of a new app to help riders adjust to major construction and the resulting detours. But locals say the change in routes isn’t the only issue affecting Gainesville commuters
Jordan Nicole Sandberg boarded the Route 16 RTS bus three days into the fall semester. She put her backpack down and settled in for a quick, familiar ride.
A non-traditional UF student at the age of 28, Sandberg lives off-campus, only about two miles away from the school. The TransLoc app, which RTS previously told customers to use, instructed her to take the Route 16 bus straight to campus. But when the doors opened to let her off at what the bus driver told her was the last stop, she was at UF Health Shands Hospital.
Half of the Regional Transit System’s 46 bus routes are currently detoured due to the construction on and around the University of Florida campus. Stops are closed, routes have changed and commuters are trying to adapt. To help, RTS is promoting the launch of a new app that aims to streamline navigation and clarify the detoured bus routes for riders.
The beginning of the fall semester has been a struggle for commuters like Sandberg.
“I had to figure out the hard way that I wasn’t able to take one bus to campus,” Sandberg said. “Luckily, I was able to figure it out with a friend, but the whole ordeal was very unorganized and confusing. The bus drivers also seemed very upset by the changes since it caused lots of confusion and frustration for passengers.”
Sandberg is an experienced RTS rider, and she’s been using the TransLoc app to find what routes work for her. But the bus driver informed her that the app wasn’t updating to show the detour routes.
Thomas Idoyaga, marketing and communications specialist for RTS, said the company is ending its 10-year relationship with the TransLoc app.
“One of the reasons we’re ending [our relationship with them] is this right here,” he said. “It does not show the detours.”
The new app for riders with RTS is called GNV RideRTS. The app, which is now available on Apple and Android app stores, provides live updates and detailed detour routes. Going forward, if there’s a change in routes for any reason, the app will show students what has changed, what spots are closed and how they can get to where they need to go.
“It’s going to be a huge improvement,” Idoyaga said.
But the adjustments being made by bus riders have just begun. The construction on campus is estimated to take at least two years, and some routes will continue to change.
Idoyaga has been working for RTS for nearly 11 years. He said he’s never seen anything like this in his time with the company. Usually, he’s dealing with one or two detours at a time, but he said these changes are systemwide.
“It’s in the heart of the whole campus,” he said. “You know, this isn’t fun for anybody. But they need to get it done. Like everyone, we wish they would have started last year when the students were not there, but the engineering wasn’t completed yet.”
Even students who live close enough to walk to class are struggling with the recent changes. Just a few miles away from Sandberg, 20-year-old criminology and geography major Aastha Sinha waits to ride the Route 33 bus for the first time.
She lives so close to her classes that she’s never had to worry about the bus system before. A once 12-minute walk now takes 25 to 30 minutes due to the construction on Museum Road.
“I should just be able to cross the street from [my residence] and get to class,” Sinha said. “[But] I have to go the back way. I can’t walk on Museum [Road] anymore — I can’t get anywhere.”
RTS bus driver Jessica Williams said students aren’t the only people in Gainesville who rely on the buses.
“You see all types of people,” Williams said. “You see students a lot, but we do have people from the community that ride [the buses]. On [Route] 8, I have a lot of people from the community that catch the bus to go to work, send their kids to school… It helps more than just the students. It helps everybody.”
Betsy Izquierdo has driven buses in Gainesville for nine years. She said a lot of non-students rely on her routes, especially elderly community members.
Izquierdo recalled a particularly rewarding day driving for RTS — when an older man riding the bus thanked her for coming to work. At first, she thought he was being sarcastic. But she politely asked him what he meant.
He replied: “Well, if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have been able to get my groceries.”
“I’ll never forget that day,” Izquierdo said.
Director of the Division of Social Services for Alachua County Sarai Cabrera said she believes that, compared to transit systems in smaller communities, RTS is a great example of public transportation. But she also added that there’s room for growth beyond these temporary setbacks due to the construction.
Cabrera’s place of work offers a variety of community services, and she works with all types of people. She said a lack of access to transportation disproportionately affects low-income communities — especially the people that rely on the local transportation to get to work.
Both the Division of Social Services and RTS offer forms of assistance to riders: DSS can help with certain types of bus passes for low-income community members, and RTS offers a service that helps those who live too far from an active bus stop.
“You do have a service that will pick you up in front of your house, but it will take you like three hours before you get to your appointment. There’s huge challenges,” Cabrera said.
Gainesville resident Rufus Perry relies on the bus system every day. He said he takes the bus “everywhere,” and he’s not riding alone.
“I know a lot of people that rely on it,” Perry said.
He said he noticed the recent changes, and they were mostly easy for him to acclimate to. But Perry said there are bigger issues than detours facing the community when it comes to transportation.
“Some people are disadvantaged,” Perry said. “They’re forced to move farther out from [the city] because of how prices are going up… Certain parts of town have limited access. Like, the [Route] 6 doesn’t run the same on the weekend… It’s confusing.”
Perry said the lack of routes creates struggles for community members that ride buses to and from work.
“You have to be two hours early if you have to catch a certain bus,” he said. “Sometimes you have to get off work early to catch that bus because it’s the last one. I just don’t understand. This is supposed to be a flourishing community. Why don’t the buses run more?”
The issue with transportation is part of a bigger picture, and there’s no quick fix, Cabrera said. Lack of access to transportation greatly affects people in poverty, which continues a cycle of problems.
She said a common thread among social services providers is that there will always be more demand than resources available, but people in the field are always looking to make long-term improvements.
To her, this means addressing poverty and the lack of accessibility in the community.
“Otherwise,” she said, “”it’s just a cycle that continues.”