CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to better reflect the specific podcast journalism students created to investigate commuter bus issues.

Commuter students who depend on DOTS’ charter bus service for transportation to and from the University of Maryland face daily uncertainty about getting a seat due to budget shortfalls.

The Department of Transportation Services runs bus routes on weekdays to campus from surrounding suburbs such as #141 Gaithersburg and #142 Columbia. But students who depend on the bus to get to class say they can never be sure a seat will be available. Many line up 30 minutes before the bus is scheduled to leave and sometimes still find themselves standing in the aisles or turned away, they said.

Tiara Rachman, a senior architecture and environmental policy major, said demand is so high that getting a seat on the charter buses operated by the university’s DOTS is a matter of luck.

“There’s been times where I had to stand up on the bus because of overcrowding,” Rachman said.

Student concerns this semester come after more than a year of issues with commuter routes, such as the #141 bus. Students have long criticized the #141 for consistently long lines, delays and inconsistent service, The Diamondback previously reported.

Shuttle-UM used to provide service to surrounding suburbs, but DOTS started to operate the routes through a contractor in spring 2022, according to a university spokesperson.

The department contracted a new company called K&V Limousine Service to provide bus service this semester, a university spokesperson said in an email to The Diamondback.

After a #141 charter bus to Gaithersburg crashed in October, students have also raised safety concerns about commuter bus routes.

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Some complained that under the previous charter bus company, Atlantic Coast Charter, drivers allowed students to stand in the aisle or sit in the luggage compartment. DOTS has never received a report or eyewitness account that someone was instructed to ride in the luggage compartment, a university spokesperson wrote in an email to The Diamondback.

Sinmi Ojeyomi, a senior computer science major, has used the commuter bus routes for two years. In the past, Ojeyomi stood up for the entire ride home when he couldn’t get a seat, he said.

“I used to take the Gaithersburg about two years ago before I moved to Columbia, and that was always crowded,” Ojeyomi said.

The busiest commuter buses are on Fridays, when commuter students are joined by students visiting home for the weekend.

Nathan Grinkemeyer, a junior business major, rode the #141 bus frequently last semester and dealt with long lines on Fridays, with students desperate to get a seat.

Grinkemeyer said he once witnessed a driver jokingly offer for students to ride in the luggage compartment. When some students eagerly accepted, Grinkemeyer said the driver allowed them to crawl in the compartment underneath the main seating area of the bus.

“The kids were asking, like begging, to get on because they didn’t want to wait till the next bus… eventually he actually let them go in because the kids actually wanted to do it,” Grinkemeyer said. “If it were the last bus of the day and I had to get home, I’d probably do it.”

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According to a spokesperson from this university, DOTS regularly communicates with the charter bus companies to receive reports on ridership numbers and to ensure they are following all Federal Transportation Authority regulations, which prohibit riding in the luggage compartment.

Ojeyomi said he has noticed a difference in the quality of driving this semester. He has not seen charter bus drivers allowing students to stand in the aisle or ride in the luggage compartment, he said, but that has meant turning students away.

Senior nursing major Maryam Abd-Allah said she has seen as many as ten students left at the bus stop in the morning this semester after the #142 bus ran out of space on its route to campus.

The spokesperson for this university said DOTS does not currently have funds to send another bus to the route.

Abd-Allah added that the process of trying to secure a seat on the overcrowded buses is often chaotic.

“We just scatter around, all around the bus stop, and you just shove your way through. It’s really annoying,” she said. “It’s like anarchy.”