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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

BranVan should invest in professional drivers

Published: November 7, 2014
Section: Opinions

Two weeks ago, a woman was riding her bike at the corner of Harvard and Main Street in Waltham at around 7 p.m. She was riding along the sidewalk approaching the intersection, when a BranVan approached on the alternate street. Making a tight curve, the van departed from its lane and hit her, trapping her underneath the hood until the fire department showed up to rescue her. Her bicycle was totally destroyed, and though the woman suffered no life-threatening injuries, she did suffer a traumatic brain injury.
Let me start by stating that all of us love the BranVan. It can transport those of us who don’t have cars off campus, provide a ride when alcohol makes driving or walking impossible or even just bring us from the Village to Rabb if walking up the hill is too much effort. The system allows greater mobility and ease of access on campus, and many feel they couldn’t live without that. Well, as long as the system functions, people love it. The vans do have a tendency to run late, miss stops … and sometimes hit people. Though serious failures of policy such as accidents are rare, every day, minor errors are made and mistakes occur. These failures are, by and large, attributable to the hiring of student drivers for the system. We need to do something about those hiring practices to avoid the failures of the status quo.
I understand why the BranVan hires student drivers: cheap, easy access to labor. Student drivers can generally be paid less than professionals, and with federal work study, the government often offsets the cost of their wages. In addition, it’s easier to train and manage your employees when they all live within 15 minutes of your office. I’ll admit these benefits are significant, but the hiring of student drivers has also led to many of the harms associated with operating the BranVan.
I don’t know about anyone else, but if I were an insurance company, my absolute nightmare would be a partially trained college student driving a giant van full of drunk people around a traffic-filled city at 2 in the morning. Though I’m not aware of the actual insurance premiums paid by the BranVan, I would assume the costs are steep for them. The necessity to spend so much money on insurance, in fact, probably negates any actual economic benefit of hiring students. Most likely, it would actually save money if we hired professional drivers.
At this point, I’m sure there are those of you out there who think I’m attacking students themselves, that I’m saying they must be bad drivers or lazy or something along those lines. Though there exists a number of bad drivers on our campus, and lazy students as well, they aren’t any more than in the general population. The problem with having students drive a van is that most students simply do not have enough experience to adequately drive a large van. Drivers ages 16-20 are already the highest risk for insurance companies. In addition, driving a van is much more difficult than driving a car, and even with some amount of van training, it still requires large amounts of practice to become a good van driver. With our current training system, there isn’t enough time in the program for people to prepare themselves for driving a van. Even with adequate amounts of training, it is not possible for people to become comfortable driving a van in a few weeks. There is no reasonable way for someone to quickly obtain van driving skills: It can only be learned over time. And without these skills, the BranVan will never be as effective as it could be.
This is ultimately the reason for hiring professionals instead of students to drive the BranVan. The reason behind the failure of the BranVan system is not that our students are a bad drivers, but that they cannot possibly have enough experience to drive well. The missed stops, late vans and casualties are not the result of laziness but lack of experience. The BranVan needs to reform its hiring practices before the next accident is even worse.