Campus News

UB working to resolve food service, transportation issues

 A UB Stampede bus.

A shortage of bus operators has led to fewer UB Stampede runs and more crowded buses. Parking and Transportation Services is working to hire more drivers to bring service back toward pre-pandemic levels. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

By CHARLES ANZALONE

Published September 17, 2021

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headshot of Chris Austin.
“Bus operator shortages are happening throughout the region and nationwide. UB unfortunately is not an exception. ”
Chris Austin, director
Parking and Transportation Services

With a national labor shortage hampering on-campus eateries and busing, UB administrators are working to find additional employees to boost these services back toward pre-pandemic levels.

“I think an important note is that students have been very appreciative of our efforts, as most understand from listening to the many news stories what our situation is when it comes to labor, says Eric Blackledge, executive director for UB’s Faculty Student Association, which does business as Campus Dining and Shops.

“There are also significant challenges with the supply chain, and just trying to source products is a daunting task. Many vendors are out of stock, and we often need to find substitutions.”

Chris Austin, director of Parking and Transportation Services, offers a similar perspective. “Bus operator shortages are happening throughout the region and nationwide,” he says. “UB unfortunately is not an exception.”

Campus Dining and Shops is working to reduce long lines, expand hours and reopen dining locations to serve students’ needs, Blackledge says. That includes giving students their usual wide array of food choices at UB’s restaurants and food kiosks.

“We are striving to meet our students’ expectations, and we are working very hard to fill all open positions as quickly as possible,” he says.

Many student employees in UB food service operations are international students. The pandemic has led to major delays in the Social Security Administration’s ability to process the paperwork international students need for U.S. employment.

“Campus Dining and Shops, along with UB and the help of Sen. Chuck Schumer’s office, have worked to rectify this situation for our students, which will allow them to begin work within our food service operations,” says Blackledge. “An influx of new employees will help to significantly reduce the wait times and enable us to reopen dining locations.”

Blackledge says several improvements have started this week, including more reservations at Crossroads Culinary Center; an increase in the Breakfast Meal Exchange value, which can be used at 11 operations (nine on North Campus, two on South Campus); and expanded hours at locations in the Ellicott Complex and the Student Union.

“Next week, we will have another operation opening in the Student Union, which will provide more variety and add another choice for students to select from,” Blackledge says. “We hope to have more announcements like this in the coming weeks.”

Campus Dining and Shops has positions available including assistant managers, supervisors, line cooks, cashiers, dishwashers and more. Benefits include a set schedule, free meals, competitive pay, and a sign-on bonus for both union and management positions. Interested applicants can apply at Campus and Dining Shops job webpage.

The website contains additional information, such as a full report on hours and locations of Campus Dining and Shops.

Austin says the UB Stampede — running with about 20% fewer bus drivers — has a full range of service hours, from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. But the UB Stampede is missing about 25% of the bus runs the office would like to offer, especially during this part of the year when UB’s fleet of buses and shuttles serve over 12,000 passengers daily. Staffing weekends and after-hour shifts has been especially challenging, leading to long waits at times.

First Transit, the operator of Buffalo Stampede, is aggressively recruiting operators. A job fair is planned, regional marketing and advertising have been increased, and signing bonuses to attract qualified applicants are being considered, according to Austin.

“We have reassigned campus shuttles to operate and fill UB Stampede gaps,” he says. “That has been a tremendous help, particularly during the morning rush hour commute period when traffic slows considerably.”

The university also has open recruitment for qualified CDL (commercial driver licensed) operators, and recently added several new members to the team. 

“The combination of these efforts, I hope, will lead to our on-boarding a sufficient number of operators to bridge the current gaps in service,” Austin says. “When that occurs, the bus overcrowding will diminish, efficiency and timeliness will improve, and we’ll better meet our goal of moving our students and community in the way they are accustomed to.”