Back on Board the DU Shuttle
Daniels research helps boost DU shuttle ridership following the COVID-19 pandemic
Prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Denver’s campus shuttle service, which launched in 2019, was gaining momentum, safely carting DU students, staff and faculty to locations across campus and beyond. Then, in early 2020, when the virus spread and in-person activities came to a screeching halt, shuttle ridership plummeted.
“The impact of COVID was severe,” says Jim Anderson, director of parking and mobility services at DU. “The number of students coming to campus declined by 70–75%, while the number of staff and faculty coming to campus decreased by more than half.”
To ramp up shuttle ridership, the Daniels College of Business' Consumer Insights and Business Innovation Center (CiBiC) teamed up with DU’s Parking and Mobility Services and the Center for Sustainability to gather data and provide evidence-based recommendations to improve the shuttle service and gain more riders.
“Coming back out of COVID, our goal was to make the shuttle service really shine and make it easy for students, staff and faculty to access this resource,” says Melissa Akaka, associate professor of marketing and co-director of CiBiC. “We wanted to make everyone aware of how valuable this service is, because for a lot of people, their level of awareness was simply, ‘Oh, I’ve seen the shuttle.’”
Lauren Bratschun, a Daniels MBA student and CiBiC graduate assistant, worked on the project from the start. “I began by combining and analyzing data from different sources to get a holistic view of shuttle ridership,” she says. “We identified different groups based on the frequency of shuttle rides, then conducted interviews with riders in each of the groups. We drew different themes from these interviews, which helped guide the recommendations for increasing ridership.”
From there, Bratschun, along with her two student colleagues, Yarden Zinger and Shipra Bhandari, compiled their results and outlined opportunities for improvement for the DU shuttle service. “One of the most surprising things we found was the lack of knowledge about the on-demand shuttle option, even amongst people who had used the fixed-route service,” Bratschun says.
The on-demand shuttle offering is similar to that of ridesharing services like Uber as users can request ad-hoc rides from their current location to a specific destination. “The on-demand service goes to popular locations near campus like grocery stores and restaurants, as well as other non-regular shuttle stop locations on campus,” said Anderson, adding that anyone with a DU ID can ride the shuttle for free (via the on-demand option or its regular routes).
According to Zinger, an undergraduate student who became involved with CiBiC and this project as a student in Akaka’s market research course, the on-demand option is one of the shuttle’s key features.
“For students without cars,” he says, “it’s hard to walk to the grocery store and carry everything back to campus. The on-demand service is perfect for this. Students can also use the shuttle when traveling all the way from one side of campus to the other. It can also be used when they need to go to places like Walgreens.”
The shuttle can be arranged and tracked via the app, TripShot, which has been updated since CiBiC started its research. “Before, when I asked all the undergrad students in my market research class to download the app, many of them had a hard time doing it,” Akaka says. “So we provided early feedback on the app experience and a lot of changes have been made based on our recommendations. We also provided feedback on how to communicate to users before they download the app and now there’s a landing page for the shuttle that has instructions and a video.”
Steve Veloff, the application systems analyst for DU’s Parking and Mobility Services, highlighted some of the specific changes made to the app. “Over the past year,” he says, “the TripShot app has had several reservation and accessibility improvements, as well as certain additional features like geolocation (if users allow it) and new home-screen buttons. TripShot has also added a new user experience designer to make even more improvements to the app based on continued feedback they get from their riders.”
The improvements to the app, along with the other recommended changes outlined in CiBiC’s report, seem to be paying off. “Ridership has already increased,” Anderson says. “Last September, there were 208 riders for the month and this year, there have been 395 riders so far and we could reach 600, which would be nearly a threefold increase, year over year.”
Shipra, a master of science in business analytics student and CiBiC graduate assistant, describes the DU shuttle service as “quite a gem.” She also expressed her gratitude for the opportunity to work with CiBiC on this research assignment. “I enjoyed this whole project from the start,” she says. “It’s been really fun learning different skillsets and working with Melissa, Lauren and Yarden. I loved riding the shuttle for our observations; it’s so easy and the drivers are so nice and friendly.”
To learn more about the DU shuttle, including how to download the app and find a ride, please click here.