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WVU spending nearly $4 million on buses this semester

West Virginia University is spending close to $4 million on extra buses this semester to ensure its Morgantown students are able to make it back and forth between the Downtown, Health Sciences and Evansdale campuses.

The extra buses became a necessary expenditure when university officials decided in July to shut down its Personal Rapid Transit system because of concerns about spreading the COVID-19 virus when classes began Aug. 26 in Morgantown.

According to Ted Svehlik, WVU’s associate vice president Auxiliary and Business Services, anywhere from 900 to 2,400 people each day ride the buses which are being provided by Mountain Line Transit Authority and Coach USA.

The buses from Coach USA are costing the university approximately $3 million this semester. WVU’s payments to Mountain Line this fiscal year currently are expected to be approximately $875,000, said April Kaull, a WVU spokesperson.

“And while there are no direct external sources of funding for the Coach USA buses, offsets in other transportation-related areas from the CARES Act lessen the impact of this cost to the university’s transportation budget,” Svehlik said in an email to The Dominion Post.

“Mountain Line currently is operating six bus routes, which may be used by students free of charge,” he said. “Additionally, WVU is running three new bus routes through Coach USA, adding approximately 30-34 available buses.”

A typical PRT car – a fixture on the Morgantown campus since 1975 – can hold a maximum of 15 people. With social distancing, however, a bus can typically hold the same amount with riders seated in every other row. As added safety precautions, WVU also deep cleans the buses after each shift, has hand sanitizers on board, plus makes it mandatory for both the drivers and riders to wear a face covering. The driver also has a clear plastic shield separating him from riders as an added layer of protection.

“The university is continually monitoring its available bus fleet and utilization,” Svehlik said. “And we will continue to adjust the overall number of buses we place into service and modify routes based on ridership.”

University officials said no decision has been made on whether or not to reactivate the PRT for the 2021 spring semester, which begins in January. That decision will be based on COVID-19 conditions both on campus, as well as in Morgantown and Monongalia County.

“A decision will be made later in the semester based on conditions at that time,” Svehlik said.

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