By now, everyone knows that on Aug. 20 AppalCart implemented controversial changes to its routes and schedules and that not everyone in Boone is exactly happy about these changes.
On social media, people have been open about their displeasure, including Twitter user @ZachariahDBrown who said: “Go back to the original routes, the new ones are absolutely terrible.”
Jake Reeves, a graduate student in the College of Student Development, has not had the best experience with AppalCart after the route changes.
“My personal opinion of the bus routes are that they have been off completely,” Reeves said. “Either the drivers are stopping at places they are not scheduled to stop that are on their route, or AppalCart’s online schedule doesn’t display all the information, increasing confusion about the stops and where people go to be picked up.”
On Twitter, others have been open about their confusion over the new routes, with many petitioning the official AppalCart Twitter, @AppalCART, with issues they are having and questions about schedules.
Among students, there seems to be a sentiment that AppalCart sprung these changes on them out of nowhere.
Heather Arledge, a senior history major, had ridden the Pink Route for two years before the route changes. Over the summer, while working for the university, she said that she heard that there might be changes.
“It wasn’t until literally the first week of class where I started looking to try to see how the changes affected my route that I realized that they completely took the stop out from in front of my apartment,” Arledge said.
Even those who like the changes agree that they felt the changes were surprising.
“I think it’s much more streamlined and adding the buses has helped a ton and I think the route changes themselves are mostly positive changes,” Amber Olsen, a graduate biology student, said. “I just wish there had been more communication about the changes because I know even today I’ve seen people on the buses that have no idea about the changes.”
This sentiment is compounded by the confusion many students feel about the new schedules.
NextBus, the app many students use to keep track of bus schedules, has also not been updated with the new schedules.
“It was kind of a rough start,” Craig Hughes, the transportation director for AppalCart, said. “NextBus wasn’t ready to go, which I think confused a lot of folks. We had some of the routes ready to go on that Monday before classes, the Red and Green routes are a little more complicated so they were slower coming online.”
NextBus not being updated was not something that AppalCart could control. Initially, NextBus said that they would have the routes updated by the time classes started. However, NextBus then told AppalCart the schedule updates would take longer to go through than predicted, which contributed to the confusion, Hughes said.
Furthermore, students said they feel they cannot decipher the new way that AppalCart documents its route schedules.
Prior to the change, the schedules were laid out by what time after the hour a particular bus would be at a route in a multi-column layout. Now the schedules are laid out in a single column format students find hard to understand.
“I don’t even know how to read it, it’s just very strange the way that they’ve reconfigured it.” Arledge said.
Despite what many students believe, AppalCart did attempt to inform students of route changes ahead of time.
The organization attempted to include students and the community in the planning process for the new routes.
In mid-March, AppalCart brought in Whitman, Requardt & Associates, LLP, a consulting firm, which is a “nationally-recognized engineering, architectural, construction management and environmental firm,” based out of Baltimore, according to WRA’s website.
“The first thing we did was collect basic operating data about the system, the hours it runs, the number of miles it runs, and the number of passengers it carries, and looked at that by route,” Jim Ritchey, the lead consultant for the AppalCart project and vice president at WRA, said. “Then we conducted an onboard survey where surveyors rode the routes, about a little better than 1,100 surveys were received on board the buses. Then we conducted a SurveyMonkey online survey that collected another 300 or so.”
In addition to this, there were three public comment sessions held, one in March, one in April and one in May. These were to gather feedback from the community, Ritchey said.
AppalCart also held a meeting in June for the community to comment on one of several plans they proposed.
These meetings were advertised around town, Hughes said, and notice was put up for them on AppalCart’s Twitter.
The Watauga Democrat released an article on June 14 detailing the proposed route changes, the paper released another on July 2 that confirmed the changes were occurring and a third was released on Aug. 17.
AppalCart also released several tweets between the time of the proposed changes and the day the changes occurred on Aug. 20.
Therefore, AppalCart did not fail to communicate these changes, but they did not do so adequately. This, combined with students not doing their due diligence, has led to an unfortunate mess in the first few weeks of the semester.
AppalCart did attempt to inform people over Twitter, however the AppalCart account only has 3,000 followers. Each of their announcement tweets averaged less than 10 retweets and likes.
Further, AppalCart has not updated its Facebook account since Aug. 10, 2016. Facebook is one of the foremost methods that organizations use to interact with consumers. The fact that AppalCart chose not to use Facebook to advertise this massive shift is downright neglectful.
Hughes claimed AppalCart partnered with App State to get the word out to students, yet the only evidence of this that could be found was an announcement on the App State announcement page advertising one of the public comment meetings in April.
Students are right to feel that this change came out of the blue, because it did. The final changes were proposed in June, after the majority of the student population of Boone had left. While the changes were based on data gathered while students were in town, it was still bad form for AppalCart to propose the final changes then.
However, ignorance isn’t an applicable excuse here. App State students are adults, and expecting AppalCart to hold their hands and spoon-feed them everything they need to know is immature. It’s AppalCart’s job to get people where they need to go, but the onus falls on the students to know how AppalCart is going to do so.
As for the schedule being difficult to read, AppalCart has a page on its website dedicated to helping students understand the new schedule layout.
In regards to the quality of the new routes, students need to give AppalCart and its drivers time to adjust.
“Bus operators, as well as customers, take a little bit of time to get used to changes,” Ritchey said. “The first couple weeks of a semester are just not representative of travel conditions in a university.”
This is the first massive overhaul to routes that has ever occurred at AppalCart. In previous years, the changes were minor, with only a route or two being added or modified. There is no precedent for AppalCart to rely on, which is why they need to be given time.
“There’s some things we know we have to work on, and we’re working with ASU to address those things, but overall I think it’ll work out,” Hughes said.
Students and the community need to withhold judgement for a while, otherwise they’re going to be unnecessarily angry with AppalCart and their opinion of the organization will be unfairly colored.
Q Russell is a senior journalism major from Charlotte, North Carolina. You can follow him on Twitter at @Q_M_Russell
Photo by: Vince Fortea, Staff Photographer
Featured photo caption: Students wait for the AppalCart in front of Garwood Hall.