By Tamonda Griffiths
Commuting to campus by train is an increasingly popular mode of transportation for students. While the ride is an affordable, convenient option, the length of time it takes from home to school makes it difficult to make it to early morning classes.
According to Campus One Card Administrator Megane Watkins, during the Fall 2019 semester, a total of 2,983 students received UPasses to mitigate the cost of commuting back-and-forth on Connecticut Transit.
When people often think of commuters, they think of students who drive or take a bus from beyond the campus. But there is a population of them who do not travel by car or bus, instead are train commuters.
Benson Rodrigues, junior physics (7–12) major, says he takes the train Tuesdays and Thursdays from West Haven.
“My family lives very close to the train station. My sister goes to the University of Bridgeport and I go to Southern Connecticut State University,” says Rodrigues, “so it’s very easy to commute.”
Rodrigues says he credits the implementation of the UPass program and its $20 fee as the most impactful of the various fees he pays.
“That one fee, that one pass, allows you to go pretty much anywhere in the state, in terms of public transportation for free,” says Rodrigues.
Being on campus as early as he is, gives Rodrigues time to bond with various staff members.
Rodrigues says although he certainly can take CTransit, he says it is a lot easier for to him to take the Union Station Shuttle to the university.
“I’m not always as comfortable on CTransit as I am in a Southern Shuttle,” says Rodrigues. “When I’m in a Southern Shuttle, I just feel it’s an extension of the university and all the familiarity and the ‘comfort-ness’ I have at the university I have in that shuttle.”
Rodrigues says he considers his fellow train commuters and Southern Shuttle bus riders friends he hasn’t yet made.
Lupita Barajas, a junior, Student Government Association representative-at-large, says she also rides the Union Station Shuttle. Barajas commutes to campus from Stratford.
While they both say they enjoy the camaraderie afforded them on the Union Station Shuttle, they agree pick-up and drop-off shuttle times can be quite inconvenient.
“The first shuttle bus doesn’t leave [Union Station] until 7:55 [a.m.],” said Barajas, “those students either have to order an Uber or they’re just late to their first class.”
If a student is “lucky,” Barajas says they might make it in time for their 8:10 a.m. class. But, often the shuttle bus drops off students between 8:15 and 8:20 a.m.
“You have to account for the traffic,” says Barajas, “and any emergency that happened near the campus. And they have to find another route to get to campus.”
Rodrigues says as an Orientation Ambassador, he sees this issue affecting incoming freshmen the most because they are given their schedules with little to no say in the scheduling process.
When students who commute from long distance initially receive their schedule, and see they have an 8:10 a.m. class, Rodrigues says he would help them change the class over to a later timeslot.
Rodriques says, “What happens is that students that commute from distances like Stamford or New London are now coming on Fridays just for one class.”
According to Rodrigues, those students end up spending more time riding the railways than they do in the classroom.
Barajas was hired to be Commuter Assistant for the Commuter Services office, specifically focusing on train commuters in an effort to gather feedback and create programming for students who travel via the railways.
She commutes by train she says because she has yet to obtain her driver’s license.
“I just haven’t been pushing myself, forcing myself, to get my license because I just can’t afford a car right now,” says Barajas.”
Barajas says she has definite plans to get her license before her eventual graduation from the university, but as of now sees to rush to do so without the means to buy and maintain her own personal vehicle.
Barajas says her current proximity to the Stratford Metro-North Railroad Station is about a five-minute drive from her home. If she takes the public bus, Barajas says she has two bus line options to choose from that take about 10 minutes each—including the additional walking she must do to actually get to the train station.
“Bus Line 1 drops me off about two blocks away from the [Stratford] train station,” says Barajas. “Bus Line 23 drops me off right in front of the train station, but that is not, doesn’t run as frequently as Bus Line 1. It really just depends which bus is convenient for me at that moment.”
The quality of the train ride itself, Barajas says, really depends the time of day in which she rides.
“The 7:30 [a.m.] train—well at least it gets to Stratford around 7:30-ish—That one’s filled with a lot of the high girls that go to Lauralton Hall and they just, they talk very loud and most of the time I’m not fully awake.”
Barajas says she applauds the young women for their high energy that early in morning, however that could not be herself, thankful she says their stop comes right after hers.
“Between Milford and New Haven, I can finally, you know, kind of like wake myself up,” says Barajas. “Slowly.”