Riding Georgia State’s buses just got a little more complicated

Illustration by Monte

For students who don’t have cars on campus, the Panther Express is a crucial part of their daily lives. But today, with Georgia’s COVID-19 cases skyrocketing, many students are hesitant about stepping onto the university’s buses.

Before the pandemic, after hours in the library or a day filled with classes, students would line the roads and sidewalks of campus waiting to be picked up. As they wrapped up their day of work, many were eager to make the journey back home. 

Once the bus came around the corner and to a halt, the door flew open and students would climb off and squeeze past the crowd of peers. Once empty, all hell broke loose. People would flood the doors and rush to claim a spot. Getting on the bus was only the first step. The lucky ones would grab a seat, and the others would be left to stand and hold the handrails.

This fall, that scene is a distant memory. As the pandemic moves many classes online,  Downtown’s campus streets are vacant. 

According to a U.S. News and World Report, 79% of Georgia State students live off-campus. As the university is dominated by commuters, local transportation like MARTA, the Atlanta Streetcar and university shuttles are essential for navigating downtown and campus.

Many students are understandably wary of public transportation, particularly cramming onto the Panther Express. The idea of crowding into a shared space, one used by hundreds of people a day, was already stressful enough. Throw in a global pandemic, and it becomes absurd. 

Many students won’t even consider the possibility of getting on a bus if it was anything like the previous semesters. 

Junior Aamna Murshedi lives off-campus in one of the many apartment complexes surrounding the school. Without a car on campus, the wrestling matches over a seat on one of the buses were her only way to get to and from classes.

“You really had to fight to get a seat, and sometimes, you had to wait two or three times before you could get a spot,” Murshedi said. “With everything that’s going on, there is no way I’m gonna be [riding the bus]. I would rather walk the mile and a half than risk my chances.”

Previously, each bus could be entered through two doors, one next to the driver’s seat and another closer to the rear of the bus. Now, however, drivers tend to only open the rear.  

With fewer students attending classes in-person, the risks for spreading the virus are lessened but still remain possible. To ensure the safety of students and faculty, Panthers will have to abide by new rules to step onto the bus.

Drivers are surrounded by a large, plastic separation wall that divides them from riders. Masks are also mandatory for entry; those who don’t have one will not be permitted to ride. 

The Panther Express has added more stops along with shifting routes in order to prevent overcrowded and jammed stations. In the past there were three main routes available to students: Blue, Purple and Green. Today only Blue and Purple are running. 

Students can catch the bus from 7 a.m. to midnight, Monday through Friday. Panthers can also download Passio Go!, an app with live schedule updates.

Stickers are placed on bus seats to measure six feet and encourage students to maintain social distancing. 

Junior Zooey Gage lives off-campus and heavily relies on the buses to get to where she needs to go. She recently rode the bus with all the new implications and changes for the first time. 

“Anything open for public use nowadays I usually avoid, but riding the bus is something that I need to do,” Gage said. “I was very impressed with everything that the university had done to try and make it as safe as possible. The partition was a great idea; there were fewer students getting picked up at each stop, and the stickers gave everyone the space that they needed.” 

From speaking to students and observing the changes made, many have come to the same conclusion: if there is anything that can be done to help keep students safe when riding buses, the university has done it. 

When comparing the old system of routes and the number of students allowed on a single vehicle before the pandemic, the difference is shocking. 

Junior Kanar Rashid notices these differences and is very appreciative of the university’s efforts. In fact, she thinks the new system is an improvement from the pre-pandemic bus service. 

“I think this way is way more effective than the old ways,” Rashid said. “The separation between the driver and students is a great way to ensure their safety as well as ours. With the disease being so spreadable, it’s very important that we take as many safety measures as possible.”

Like many other hygienic changes that have been implemented during the pandemic, efficiency and cleanliness have been increased. The new routes and pick up areas have made life easier for students. The changes have also alleviated student’s fears and mental health as well.

Not only do the new ways of running operations around campus reduce the risk of outbreaks and infections, but they also allow students to feel safer when returning to campus.

Many see the alterations to the system as a way of finally being able to relax and having one less thing to worry about.

For those reasons, students like Rashid are thankful for the chance to feel safer on campus. 

“If I get exposed to the virus, there’s a strong chance that my family would be exposed as well,” she said. “The efforts being done shows that the university really cares about students, especially with the higher stops and the mask mandates. With cases going up, it makes me feel safer to go to school.”