Inclement weather freezes ACES operation

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Anh Cao

The Augustana College Express Service (ACES) provides transportation around campus for students, but harsh weather stops the service in its tracks.

Since its creation, ACES has been a safe option for students to get across campus, allowing them to avoid the danger of having to walk alone at night.

However, every now and then, especially during the winter months, ACES ceases operation temporarily due to “inclement weather.” This inevitably affects students who need to travel across campus.

Senior Sophie Nevel has been working for ACES since their sophomore year. Starting out as a regular student worker, Nevel is now one of the four directors for ACES.

The other directors for ACES include juniors Caleb Gruden and Maryjane Koza as well as Olivia Helton, a senior.

Regarding the decision of whether or not to temporarily close ACES due to weather, Nevel said, “I would say it’s a collaboration [between ACES and Public Safety], but ultimately it’s Public Safety who calls the shot.”

“If it’s forecasted to snow a lot, the director will contact Public Safety, specifically Chief Tom [Phillis], and ultimately Public Safety makes the call,” Nevel said. “We don’t make the call. And sometimes Public Safety will make a decision even before we communicate with each other and then they’ll let us know.”

It is not always that simple, however, as weather has something of an unpredictable nature.

“We don’t always close before we even open,” Nevel said. “Sometimes we open and then have to close. There are times when the drivers are still driving when the snow starts falling and accumulating. They then have to contact the dispatcher and ask them to inform the director,” Nevel said. “We try to adapt to what is happening but ultimately we communicate with Public Safety and they make the final call.”

Nathan Nguyen, a sophomore at Augustana, currently drives for ACES, having  joined this past fall term.

“It was during J-Term, and I had the opening shift,” Nguyen said. “There had been light snow throughout the day but nothing alarming. However, an hour into my shift the snow started to get heavier. I actually couldn’t even get up a hill near 38th Street. I had to call in and we ended up having to close for the rest of the night.”

Ultimately, cancelling ACES during snowy weather is a way to ensure the wellbeing of the drivers who themselves are also students.

“The decision is in concern of the drivers [ . . .] Most of the time, drivers can’t get uphill or don’t feel safe driving in super slippery and icy conditions. Of course, we care about the safety of riders, but if it’s not functional for drivers, it’s not safe for anyone,” Nevel explained.

Sam Ramont, junior at Augustana, usually calls for an ACES if it’s late and/or the weather is bad.

“I used to use ACES religiously as an underclassman when my friends lived across campus, but now that we are all in a centralized location, I rarely if ever use ACES as an upperclassman,” Ramont said in an email to the Observer.

Jack Harris, senior at Augustana, uses ACES once or twice a week. Harris finds himself using the service when it is late at night and he feels uncomfortable and/or unable to walk home alone.

“There were plenty of times I would have used it during a light snowfall, though, especially when temperatures in the winter are unbearable,” Harris said in an email to the Observer. “Ice is the biggest issue. When it’s icy outside, it’s hard to move around campus and near impossible to traverse off-campus sidewalks.

“Unfortunately, though the roads are usually better salted than walking paths, ACES tends to close early and quickly.”

Another factor that also makes ACES more susceptible to extreme weather is its limited budget.

“We don’t have super top-notch cars that can handle really thick snowfall on really hilly streets. And there’s a lot of pretty steep hills,” Nevel said.

ACES is a student-run and operated organization. Earlier this year, ACES had to cut down around five  hours of operating per week to compensate for the raise in minimum wage.

“In case we do need to close after we open, if there are already rides that exist, we will still finish those rides. We just won’t take anymore,” Nevel said.

The staff members at ACES are always looking to improve the overall experience of using the service as well.

“We frequently update the guidebook according to the complaints we receive,” Nevel said. “Recently, I got some air fresheners for the vans because people were complaining about the smell inside them.”

Trang Hoang, sophomore at Augustana, said her relationship with ACES is a positive one.

“I have late shifts almost every day, so ACES has really been a big help,” Hoang said. “I don’t have to walk all the way to Erickson every night.”

ACES has been especially helpful for students whose house is further away from the campus.

This is the case for Sara Main, senior at Augustana, who is living off-campus.

“It’s quite far to walk from, like, most of the academic buildings back to my house so I take ACES whenever I can,” Main said. “It can also be pretty scary at night, so ACES is definitely a savior.”

Over the last four months Ramont has been driving people around as an UBER driver.

“I decided to drive for UBER because I needed extra money,” Ramont said in an email to the Observer. “My schedule during the day did not allow for a conventional job like a cashier.”

Ramont, like ACES, judges whether he drives bases off the weather.

“If it is a downpour or seriously impairing my vision I will obviously stay in,” Ramont said in an email to the Observer. “But if there is a steady rain or a chance of showers, I will go out anyways, because people tend to tip a little more due to the bad weather.”

Ramont usually delivers food through UBER Eats, but occasionally drives people around.

It is worth mentioning the occasions when students are unable to use ACES’s service are quite rare.

For instance, during the 2018-2019 school year, ACES only closed for around 16 nights, equating to a grand total of just over 2 weeks.

Additional reporting by Brady Johnson.
Graphic Illustration by Alyssa Duckett.