Transit Operator Appreciation: CAMBUS thanks student employees for their diligence as service grows
The week of March 20, 2023, UI CAMBUS is recognizing its student employees for their commitment to providing safe and reliable transportation. CAMBUS student drivers and student support staff continued to step up in 2022 amidst staff shortages and rebounding ridership numbers.
With an average of 11,203 riders on academic weekdays, CAMBUS student drivers maintained their commitment to campus accessibility and road safety. Several riders reached out to commend how student drivers went above and beyond to ease their daily commutes.
I am retiring today from UI after over 21 ½ years... I appreciate the dedication and quality of the work the students do in driving the buses, doing so safely, and providing simple things such as lowering the door when I needed a little help in getting off the bus...
Rising above circumstance through community
In 2022, the CAMBUS staffing levels were at an all-time low with a 42% vacancy rate. The staffing shortage was a result of reduced hiring during the pandemic, long wait times at the DOT for licensing appointments, and typical student staff turnover.
The low staffing levels in fall 2022 required CAMBUS to reduce services across campus. Reduced services challenged CAMBUS student employees to maintain important transportation services with fewer trip options available to riders.
CAMBUS student employees across departments met this challenge admirably. Due to their dedication, service continued as students were willing to pick up extra work and diligently assisted each other in covering shifts.
Special recognition is owed to the personnel supervisor and training staff who have gone above and beyond to hire and train a record number of new employees. During fall 2022, CAMBUS hired 62 new student drivers, almost twice as many new drivers typically hired during the fall semester. Hiring recovered by the spring 2023 academic session, with the driver vacancy rate improving to 16%, which allowed CAMBUS to restore most regular academic services.
Awards and recognition
Several student employees were recognized at CAMBUS over the past year for their contributions to the organization. Recognition included:
- 10 CAMBUS scholarship recipients
- Driver of the Year and Support Person of the Year
- UI Student Employee of the Year (campus services)
- Top placing at local and state IPTA roadeo
"Working at CAMBUS has given me a greater understanding and appreciation of the importance of public transportation. The ability to provide reliable, safe, and accessible transportation is important for the community and incredibly rewarding. I truly enjoy my job!"
"What students do at CAMBUS is quite extraordinary; we have student drivers working as early as 4 a.m. to as late as 1 a.m. The same students drive in inclement weather conditions to help hospital employees, paratransit commuters, university faculty, students, and city locals arrive to work, school, and businesses. I feel lucky to be one cog in the wheel that has sustained CAMBUS for 50 years of student-ran service."
"Working for CAMBUS has impacted my experience at the University of Iowa by giving me a sense of community. I feel that my contribution, whether it be doing an oil change or dropping passengers off, is valued by my co-workers and the people of Iowa City.
Providing transportation services gives me a fulfilling role in the community. I understand that people depend on public transit to get around the city, and I’m glad to be part of the experience of helping someone go from point A to B."
Bionic bus rides
miles of service
hours of service
CAMBUS growth: DOT certifications and CAMBUS Now
To provide additional responsiveness to staffing needs, CAMBUS applied to a new program with the Iowa Department of Transportation (Iowa DOT) that allows transit agencies to become 3rd party Commercial Driver's License (CDL) testers. In 2022, CAMBUS’ operations manager and senior training supervisor became certified commercial examiners through the Iowa DOT.
The certification allows CAMBUS staff to conduct CDL knowledge and skills tests for student drivers in accordance with the same regulations and testing standards as state DOT testing centers. Having certified examiners on staff has reduced the wait time for student staff to complete CDL licensing steps in their training.
CAMBUS Now mobile app
CAMBUS Now, a new app for requesting on-demand ride services, was launched to riders in early November. The app is designed be a simple system for both on-demand and bionic bus riders to use. It will play an important role in plans to expand CAMBUS’ on-demand services.
In October 2022, CAMBUS hosted the 50-Year Celebration and Alumni Reunion. CAMBUS started in January 1972 by students at the university. The 50-year event brought together past student employees from CAMBUS' 50-year history to reminisce and learn more about how the organization has grown over the years.
In addition to expressing gratitude for current student employees, CAMBUS thanks alumni who made the CAMBUS 50-Year Celebration and Alumni Reunion a success. The program is proud to promote and continue the lasting sense of community that its alumni built.
"CAMBUS has acted as a key motivator and driver for success in my studies. Aside from the student body we serve, it’s been great to see the other aspects of our community... families riding our athletic shuttles, to differently-abled passengers utilizing our Bionic service. Everyone is thankful, and it means the world to me that I can finally work for and represent something I believe in."
"Working at CAMBUS has been the most impactful aspect of my college experience... my passion really lies in our Bionic paratransit service, where we provide hundreds of rides a month for persons with disabilities. Providing safe and reliable transportation for this population that is largely underserved brings a smile to my face."
"I am an introvert in the sense that I need time for myself to recharge, and an extrovert when it comes to meeting new people. This is the most perfectly balanced job in that aspect. The community is friendly, understanding, and full of pride! I feel part of the community to be able to drive students from classes to dorms, hospital workers to their cars, or alumni to games. I have a purpose here, and I’m finding myself wanting to pick up more shifts."
About Transit Operator Appreciation Day
Transit Operator Appreciation Day is celebrated each year to thank public bus and rail operators for their service. The date of March 18 was selected to commemorate the first form of modern public transportation in Paris in 1662.
Transit Operator Appreciation Day was originally proposed as an idea in a blog in 2009 to recognize bus drivers in Seattle, Washington. By 2014, the day was celebrated at public transportation agencies across the U.S.
CAMBUS consists of 160 student employees that operate the transportation system. All bus operator positions are held by UI students. Students may also earn promotions to positions in dispatching, training, maintenance, and supervision. The CAMBUS student teams are supported by full-time staff: two managers, two training supervisors, a maintenance supervisor, and six maintenance technicians.