GUSA votes to continue funding weekend GUTS buses

Last Sunday, members of the Georgetown University Student Association decided to bail out a quickly depleting account that funds weekend service of Georgetown University Transit Shuttles. During the April 26 meeting, GUSA senators disclosed that the funds were being spent at an alarming rate to fund continued service.

The allocation of an additional $5,000—voted in by a narrow majority of 11 in favor, 10 against, and 1 abstention—will fund approximately 65 percent of the GUTS service with the remainder expected to be picked up by other groups at the University. Debate over the measure was prolonged and occasionally heated with a number of Senators arguing it should not be the role of GUSA to bail out the funds.

“I think one of the most frustrating aspects of this for me is the way blame for this has been offloaded onto GUSA,” Speaker of the Senate Adam Talbot said during the meeting.

“This is a service that the University ought to be providing if it wishes to be the University it claims to be. I’ve been incredibly frustrating as I’ve watched the news reports on this develop,” he added. “It’s quite shameful the way this has been perpetrated so far.”

Talbot eventually concluded that, despite his frustration, students should add money to the funds, an opinion that was shared by GUSA Vice President Jason Kluger.

“The function of the GUSA Fund is to help out students in any way possible … and fill any void in student life,” Kluger explained.

Most students who expressed support for the motion believed that it would be irresponsible for GUSA to fail to finance GUTS service as they have been the source of funding in the past.

“I supported the GUTS appropriation because I think it is a vitally important service to this campus that we could not in good conscience, allow to fail,” Senator Adam Mortillaro, one of the most vocal supporters of the bill, wrote in an email.

13 Comments on “GUSA votes to continue funding weekend GUTS buses

  1. I must confess I can’t for the life of me parse the semantics of that title.

  2. It’s absurd that student money has to fund the majority of weekend GUTS. It’s a University service open to everyone, so the burden should be shared. Disgraceful.

  3. Agreed. It’s nice to see that, though GUTS clearly isn’t a GUSA duty, they decided to continue funding anyway.

  4. good job gusa – making a real difference on campus finally

  5. I need to suggest a few corrections. As I was the main person who wrote the proposal for the weekend GUTS bus trial, secured the funding, the university backing, devised the original time schedule, and negotiated the contract with Abe’s Transportation, I can speak from firsthand experience.

    I’m not sure what the university or other sources are telling you, but at no point did GUSA “fund” weekend GUTS buses. The funding never came from money that GUSA controlled, at least not for the first three years (while I was there). Rather, GUSA wrote a proposal that the university consider sources of funding, including a temporary allocation of the Student Activities Fee (which was never used), to pay for a short-term trial of weekend GUTS bus services. This came after a decade of failures to get the university to step up and create meaningful weekend services. The university’s argument was that a trial of weekend service had been run previously and that it had shown little interest. However, this trial, several years earlier, had only included one bus running every hour for just a few hours once every few weeks — service so scant that it wasn’t usable and in no way representative of real student demand. We also used a survey showing overwhelming student interest in weekend GUTS service and framed it as a safety issue as well as a student life issue.

    Ultimately we convinced the university that a more meaningful test run of weekend service had to be run, and we said that we were willing to fund it — for one year — out of the Student Activities Fee, specifically out of part of it that is normally set aside as a reserve but never actually used.

    The university, with SAC, decided to preserve all of the Fee for club disbursements, and suggested as an alternate source of funding the Gift Fund, which is NOT paid for by students but rather by alums. Neither the Fee nor any GUSA funds (which all come from the Fee) were deployed for this project. OSA, which controls the gift fund on behalf of SAC I believe, pledged $60,000, or $20,000 a year for three years, to pay for the first three years of service while demand for it was measured. We accepted this with the understanding that if the service proved a success, it would be continued (or expanded) and funded either through continuing use of the Gift Fund (which, we were told, replenishes itself at an average rate of $20,000 a year), or by OSA, which had for years expressed an interest in paying for weekend service “if the demand were proven.”

    Once we (primarily Twister, the then-student body president, and I) secured the funding, we took it to Diann Nock Smith at the Office of Transportation Management and asked her if she’d work with us to pay for the expanded service — which we had already raised the money for. She refused to even meet with us or respond to emails, and we were told by administrators within OSA that she is a notoriously student-unfriendly administrator. Lynne Hirschfeld then agreed to be our go-between with her, though she didn’t make any progress either. At that point, we, with Lynne, made the decision to go ahead independently and negotiate a contract, without OTM, directly with Abe’s Transportation. As a result, the trial was actually completely independent from the GUTS service.

    We did so, setting the schedule and negotiating the size of the buses and route with Abe’s. For that matter, for the first year the bus service wasn’t even known as “GUTS buses” since OTM had refused to work with us, so we dubbed them (Twister’s idea; he overrode me) the “GUSA Early Bird and Night Owl Shuttles”, since they operated to get people out in the morning and back in the evening.

    All went well, and we even brought the program to life significantly under our 20k/year budget. I rode the shuttle on its first day and it was standing room only. University surveys showed that ridership was sky high. About a year in, OTM accepted that the weekend service was a necessary and popular option and — without even asking us — moved to consolidate our independent contract with Abe’s into the general GUTS service. (No thank you from OTM, no admitting they had been wrong, not even courtesy notification.) They even added the schedule we had negotiated to the official GUTS bus schedule on the GUTS website. At that point, the university assumed full control of the program — as had been our original intention. We had set out to prove that the service was necessary and would be popular, and the university, as it had promised, had assumed control of it. The “pilot” had succeeded and the university now owned the full program, which it had incorporated on its own initiative into the GUTS system.

    The point of the program and the assumption from our very first conversations with Lynne Hirschfeld and Todd Olson was that the university would pay for the service if it proved to be as popular as we thought it would be. It did prove so, and the university took over the program very quickly. The university had always expressed an interest in paying for the service if it determined that it was going to be well used.

    It’s very disappointing that the university is now failing to live up to its side of the bargain, and in fact blaming GUSA (always an easy target since every student involved in this graduated at least two years ago). I don’t know the details of the current situation, but I can tell you all about the program’s inception, initial funding, and its first few years. Here are some questions: Did the Gift Fund stop getting contributions? Did the university renege on its commitment to pay for the service if it proved popular? Is the university trying to pass off the blame for cutting a popular program onto GUSA to deflect blame from itself? Did the university’s budget for this get busted by the added expense of the new insane GUTS bus route (we were assured the program would be funded permanently)? I don’t know. But one thing’s for sure — this story isn’t being told right, and the university is shirking its responsibilities yet again. Even though I helped create weekend GUTS service four years ago as a GUSA initiative I do not think it’s appropriate that GUSA continue to pay for this (except as a very temporary stop-gap measure). Even if the university hadn’t promised to take over the program, which it did promise to do and actually did, this would still be 100% the responsibility of the administration.

  6. You’re not into the whole brevity thing I see. Perhaps you could publish that in book form? “A Children’s Treasury of GUSA Funding Stories”

  7. Great idea, Jake. Unfortunately publishers probably won’t want a children’s book sure to give children nightmares. :(

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  9. Eden,
    You’re completely right about the University ALWAYS taking advantage of student turnover on things like this. I can point to so many other examples in other contexts where the University commits to something or starts doing something one year, knowing that 2–4 years later, they can quietly back out and no one will know the difference.

    Hopefully some current students are actively pushing back against the University on this and can use your info to become informed about the history of this whole situation.

    Every student group needs to remember that the University can always “wait out” the students. Form some kind of institutional memory or nothing you accomplish will be long lasting.

  10. Step up service on Friday/Saturday nights to like Adams Morgan u street and the like. Would take partying out of georgetown. I think buses leaving At like 10 or 11 and coming back like 1-3 from some party spots would solve some problems.
    Maybe this would be outside the mission of guts, but a party shuttle sounds like a good idea to me.

  11. That Mortillaro sounds like one of the most level-headed guys in the Senate. I sure hope he runs again next year…

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