HUSSAIN: We can do better, VandyRide

VandyRide hours have been severely cut in the name of COVID-19 safety. But does it really keep us safe? Or does it cause more problems?


Josh Rehders

VandyRide is Vanderbilt’s on-campus busing system. (Hustler Multimedia/Josh Rehders)

Ali Hussain

Imagine you’re an incoming first-year sitting in your bedroom at home, patiently clicking refresh on the housing portal, which has been down for the past hour. Error message after error message, you keep clicking the spiraling arrow desperately waiting for your house affiliation, anxious to know how close you are to the people you know. Finally, you manage to get through, to see “Sutherland House, Fifth Floor.” At first, you’re relieved that you are in the Commons. You frantically text your best friend a quick “Hey! Which house are you in” to be met with not Hank, not East, not even Gillette but a deafening “Branscomb.” Having your best friend living at Branscomb means no quick lunch runs to Commons but rather elaborate plans of who is going to take the trek to whom. Thankfully, though, Vanderbilt has a set of vans running so you can get from one place to the next without breaking a sweat. Right?

Well, sort of. As of now, the VandyRide system is operational. That is, for only a couple of hours. And those couple of hours don’t go late into the night at all. It’s barely even ‘night’ to your average college student when the VandyRides stop coming at one in the morning. 

Yes, 1 a.m. is a perfectly reasonable time, and the system seems to be working. However, the changes made to the VandyRide system not only prevent campus cohesion but promote violations of COVID-19 policies. 

The VandyRide system fails to understand decisions that students have to make after a long night out. After a nice, perfectly safe, no rules broken, socially distanced late night dinner, walk in the park or study session, tired students can either return to their own dorm room, or they could crash at the closest bed that is available for them. And this year, the closest bed that’s available to them may be at a friend’s dorm in Towers, especially when their own dorm is 20 minutes away on Commons. So, for that student who doesn’t want to walk all the way back at 2 a.m. all by themselves—something that might not be the safest idea in a heavily metropolitan area like Nashville—it is much easier to take the floor or second bed than it is to make their way back. 

Having someone sleep over violates campus COVID-19 rules. Yet the question still remains: what can the university do to ensure both student safety and compliance with guidelines? They can provide a way back to a student’s own dorm without having to trek across campus back to Commons at night. 

We are in a unique position this year. Half of the freshman class live on one side of campus, and half live on the other. Vanderbilt has told us numerous times that they fully expect us to keep our doors open and sit in the door frame, making conversation through the night. But does that mean that they want to keep us separate? The Commons experience is fundamental to Vanderbilt, so why are they standing in the way by preventing us from riding late into the night? Would they rather us sleep in someone else’s dorm on West End Avenue? 

This is the teetering tightrope that extending VandyRide hours just might fix. If it is a question of safety, there seems to be no merit to shortening hours due to “COVID-19 policies.” The virus does not become more active at a certain time of day. Am I somehow going to get COVID-19 if I sit down in a bus at 1:01 rather than 12:59?

If so, I think our problems are much greater than VandyRide’s hours. 

Vanderbilt needs to weigh the costs and benefits for reducing these hours. In its Return to Campus plan, the university states that “during limited service, shuttles will operate from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. and will be available seven days per week” but fails to explain how these limited hours will help lessen the impact of the worldwide pandemic. Vanderbilt may perceive these reduced hours as fewer close contacts within the enclosed bus, but the implications it has for prolonged contact completely outweighs this benefit. The university even acknowledges that longer hours are needed when it states that “increased service and more on-demand options will be introduced during the fall semester, which will provide faster, more flexible service aligned with MoveVU goals.” Already a month into the semester, however, we have not seen any change. 

Campus cohesion and abiding by COVID-19 policies are central to both the reopening plan mandated by Vanderbilt and the core values of our community. However, with reduced hours of VandyRide, we have somehow found ourselves in the position to be forced to sacrifice one for the other. The solution is simple. This is not a difficult choice, Vanderbilt. The original VandyRide hours should be reinstated, if not for campus cohesion efforts that Vanderbilt has been shoving down our throats, then to allow us to stay on campus and avoid an outbreak.