Williams Transport cuts back on shuttles after financial strains

The schedule of Williams Motorcoach Transport has been condensed substantially this year due to significant financial loss. In order to become financially sustainable again, the student-run program eliminated most underutilized runs and increased the prices of tickets.

“At the end of last year, we found ourselves in a pretty deep hole financially,” said Charlie Cao ’13, director of Williams Transport. “In the past, we’ve run some of the buses a lot to give more flexibility to the students, but sometimes we’ve had buses that would run with maybe just 10 students in the bus when it could fit 35, and that would be several hundred dollars in loss per bus ride. This year, we just couldn’t afford that.”

As a result, the number of weekly shuttles to New York City and Boston were severely cut due to an estimated calculated loss of between $200 and $400 per bus per trip previously.

“This year, we are working really hard to really scrutinize the actions that we take both financially and in terms of providing good service for students,” Cao said. “We have been very conservative with scheduling buses because we don’t want to ever make a huge loss on one trip. With that said, we still try to find a balance between being cost-effective and still providing adequate service, which is why we’ve kept some of the buses going to Boston and New York City.”

Although the number of buses to cities during major College breaks was also reduced, Cao continues to monitor the buses and waitlists almost daily. Once a waitlist reaches 23 students, which is the number of students needed to break even for a bus, Cao contacts one of three bus companies that Williams Transport uses for additional buses to accommodate students. Currently, the College uses Premier Coach for routes to Boston over breaks, Wade Tours for break trips going to New York City and Coxsackie for weekend trips to New York City and Boston. For the coming Thanksgiving break, three buses to New York City have been added.

“I think students have generally been very happy with the bus companies and their services,” Cao said. “In terms of flexibility and pricing, I think we’re still the best option, it’s just not as good of an option as it was in previous years.”

According to Cao, the tickets for Williams Transport are still cheaper than those for Peter Pan bus for trips to New York City and Boston despite an increase in prices at the beginning of the year.

“In the past several years now, we’ve kept our prices the same even though bus companies have increased their rates by 10 percent or more each year,” Cao said. “Actually, three years ago we lowered our prices even more, so basically what we’re doing now is we’re just bringing it back up to its regular price before we offered the steeper discounts.”

These decisions were reached by Cao, Assistant Director for Student Involvement Ben Lamb, members of the Office of Campus Life and the controller’s office, who worked together to determine the viability of the transport program as a whole. The cuts were made in order to balance the books and in hopes that Williams Transport will be back to the way it was in previous years in terms of service. According to Cao, future decisions depend on revenue generated this year and the balance sheets at the end of the year.

“The long-term plan is to dig ourselves out of this financial hole, and then once we have more flexibility in terms of finances, we can either lower prices and/or add more buses to give students more options, and hopefully in the coming years, we’ll be able to get back to normal,” Cao said.