Pepperdine Shuttle Service Remains Reliable in the Midst of a National Shortage

The Pepperdine shuttle makes a stop on the blue route to pick up students (Photo courtesy Shuyue Luo).

Transportation services around the nation are stressed more than ever as American universities and K-12 institutions face driver shortages. 

Pepperdine’s Transit Services team has had ongoing openings for shuttle drivers since fall, with at least one position open on the Pepperdine employment website. Transit Services Manager Sean Kavanagh declined to say how many openings there are. His supervisor, Camila Bonavia, assistant vice president for Administration and Campus Operations, did not respond to an interview request. 

So far, the openings have not impacted shuttle timeliness. 

“The team cares about being timely and has a 94% reliability rate,” Kavanagh said.  

Students said they can depend on the shuttles and appreciate the roles Pepperdine drivers play on campus.  

Why is there a national driver shortage?  

Transportation services are now difficult to maintain for many institutions of education, from elementary schools to colleges, due to a shortage of drivers. The difference between a university shuttle driver position and a school bus driver role is minimal as both positions require the same qualifications. The National School Transportation Association surveyed 1,500 schools across America and found that 51% faced a “severe” or “desperate”  driver shortage. The Covid-19 pandemic resulted in noticeable hiring issues, specifically in fields that are centered around being in person.  

In January 2022, the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Transportation Services joined to address the national shortage impacting the country, according to a press release. Not having enough workers in the transit department results in elementary school students waiting at stops for extended periods of time and higher education students not having access to in-person classes. 

“This Administration is listening to the needs of school communities and remains committed to making sure schools are open safely for in-person learning full time,” U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in the statement. “We’ve heard from educators and parents that labor shortages, particularly of bus drivers, are a roadblock to keeping kids in schools.”  

The Pepperdine Transit Team is made up of seven drivers who operate from 7:30 a.m to 10:30 p.m on campus and offer weekend trips. 

“People don’t realize our department is constantly moving,” Kavanagh said. “If someone is taking a break, someone is hoping in the driver seat to keep things running,” 

What does Pepperdine’s Shuttle Service offer?   

Pepperdine has multiple dining areas, residence halls, and academic centers spread across an 830-acre campus. There are two shuttle routes that run for roughly 14 hours every weekday. The Orange route makes stops every 15 minutes during the rush hours and travels counter-clockwise, or uphill from main campus toward the Center for Communication and Business. The Blue route goes in a clockwise direction around campus and picks up students every 10 minutes. 

On weekend afternoons, there are shuttles available at three times between 1 p.m to 5 p.m. to take students to the local shopping centers. Students also have the opportunity to get rides to the Los Angeles International Airport at the end of each semester. Passengers have access to a mobile app where they can track arrival times, departure times and available routes.  

 Image of the mobile app by Pepperdine University 

Why do students take the shuttle?   

Photo of Alisha Harris, a junior integrated marketing communication major, thanking shuttle driver Nicolas Dittola at the end of her trip on the shuttle (Photo by Nya Neal).

Pepperdine features scenic beauty but also many hills as it is nestled into the Santa Monica Mountains. Some students opt to take the shuttle for convenience while others may need to take the shuttle because they have no other means of transportation. 

Alyssa Medina, a sophomore political science and history major, takes the shuttle at the end of the day.

“I usually take the shuttle around 5 p.m. or later,” Medina said. “At the end of the day, I’m usually really tired or carrying my dinner and don’t want to walk.” 

Medina navigates the campus primarily on foot and isn’t very familiar with the mobile app or tracker. 

Kris Gordon, a junior sports medicine major, takes the shuttle for ease of access and time management. He leaves his vehicle in the parking lot near his dorm.  

“It’s the best way to get around honestly.” Gordon said.  

Gordon is very familiar with the mobile app and said he takes the shuttle multiple times every day. The walk from one side of campus to the other is close to a mile long. Alisha Harris, a junior international communication major, takes the shuttle any day that she has a class or work shift to avoid the hike. 

“I take the blue route because it stops at Rho and is the most convenient for me,” Harris said. “Sometimes I want to wear cute shoes and don’t want to walk or in my bag, I’m carrying a book, iPad, laptop and cable.” 

Both Gordon and Harris said they allot at least 10 mins of extra time when they use the shuttle for transportation. 

When he missed a shuttle, Gordon said he usually only waits a maximum of 10 minutes. 

“It’s hit or miss, but mostly hit,” Harris said. 

The Pepp Post rode both the Orange and Blue routes nine times on a typical Thursday during the busiest hours of the day, 9:00 a.m til 3:00 p.m. The shuttle was only running late three times, and only had three-minute delays in departure times.   

 What is important to the Transit Services team?     

“The students are first and I know they have to be on time for their classes,” Campus Shuttle Driver Tomas Lagos said.  “My day starts before 7:30 a.m., we always make sure to start early.” 

Kavanagh said his team always looks to improve efficiency.  

“The main times we get behind are 10 a.m., 12 p.m. and 3 p.m. so we put out an extra shuttle to accommodate for extra passengers,”  Kavanagh said. 

Unforeseen events like construction, jaywalking, car doors unexpectedly opening and more can delay the departure schedule. In January 2022, a road closure on John Tyler Drive delayed the departure times of the entire shuttle system. 

“Factors that slow down the flow of traffic on campus look different from day to day and often pose safety issues,” Kavanagh said.  While the drivers average more than 40-hour weeks, the transit team reflected positively on the community they help to support. Lagos said students are well behaved and respectful while he completes his 20 rounds in a day. “I’m happy to be at Pepperdine,” Lagos said. “First, it’s a beautiful place and second, it’s full of beautiful people.”

Nya Neal completed the reporting for this story in Jour 241 under the supervision of Dr. Christina Littlefield and Dr. Theresa de los Santos. Dr. Littlefield supervised the web version of the story.