By Aurora Muller and Daniel Gomez
For students who don’t own a car and are unable to get off campus, a solution may be on the horizon. The International Student Programs and Services Office (ISPaSO), directed by David Njau, is working to create a public transportation system that would “bridge the gap” between the isolation of the Principia campus and the mobility of the urban centers nearby.
The system Njau envisions involves a shuttle that would take students on and off campus on a regular schedule. This shuttle can take students to places where they have access to public transportation, like Alton and St. Louis. ISPaSO has been studying bus routes and public transport in St. Louis, with the goal of replicating something similar for Principians.
“If you don’t have a car…your only hope for getting off campus is having a friend who has a car,” Njau said. “So you are essentially at the mercy of your friend, and a power dynamic is created between those who have cars and those who don’t.”
Reducing this “power dynamic” is one of the main goals Njau wants to achieve with his proposed system. The other primary goal is to give students an opportunity to explore Elsah’s neighboring cities and towns in a non-restrictive way.
“We don’t want to [take students] to a specific destination, because if you do that, you’re not really exploring the city, you’re on a school trip,” said Njau. “The stops I’m proposing are very strategic…and give access to public transportation.”
Without public transit or private transportation companies serving the area, Principia students can feel isolated on the rural campus. Students compromise by making vehicle-owning friends who could loan their cars or offer lifts. But students feel obligated to those from whom they borrow a car. Njau said that international students specifically are “disproportionately represented” among the group of people who do not own a car on campus.
“You feel like you have to go according to their times, always pay them, and always be in agreement with them just to make sure you can get a ride when you need it,” said Edner Oloo, a junior and international student.
Some students can avoid these pressures by purchasing a vehicle for themselves, but for those who can’t afford a car, few options remain. Principia is a beautiful campus with many activities, but students would still like the ability to explore, or even just go out for ice cream.
Students are often concerned that their PrinBill total will increase if they own a vehicle. Tami Gavaletz of the Financial Aid office explained that students who are on aid and own cars are expected to [be able to] pay an increased PrinBill given that they can afford the upkeep of a car. This, coupled with the high fee of registering your vehicle, discourages students from buying or bringing vehicles. To remedy this, Njau’s system — while geared toward international students — would also be available to the entire campus.
Access to transportation will enable students to leave campus without indebting themselves to others. Njau expects his system to be consistent; it is designed to feel less personal and more like a business transaction. Above all, he wants to “give students freedom.”
At the moment, ISPaSO has not officially proposed the system. Over the break, they implemented a “test run” for the shuttle, with a trip to Alton costing $2.50 and a trip to St. Louis costing $3.50. Njau said that ISPaSO is currently evaluating the results of this test run to see whether or not the program is ready.
“The world is larger than Elsah,” Njau said, laughing. “Most things are.”