Students traveling to Boston are spending as much as $112 more
This Spring Break, the Hamilton College Transportation Office is coordinating round-trip bus service for students to New York City and Boston with Hale Transportation, and shuttle service to Utica, Syracuse Airport, and Albany Airport via Adonis Avanti Transportation Company. Buses and shuttles have been available to students for breaks for years, but the prices for many of these trips for the upcoming Spring Break are significantly more expensive than other options available to students and increased last winter. The chartered buses can cost as much as $112 more than Amtrak for a round-trip to Boston, and $44 for NYC. See the table below for a comparison; options for which more than one transfer is necessary are excluded.
While the Hamilton-chartered shuttle to Utica Union Station costs $20 round-trip, the CENTRO public bus round-trip, which leaves from the KJ loop, is $3 and the final stop is within walking distance of the station. This bus, however, takes an hour compared to the 30-minute direct shuttle. Other options can be much more expensive. Colin Idzi, who previously worked part-time for Campus Safety and was hired as the new Transportation Coordinator two months ago, noted that “a round trip [Uber] to the Utica Train Station averages $40.00 and the Syracuse Airport is $200.00 or more.” The charter buses leave on March 11th and return on March 27th.
Departure times and travel times also differ between Amtrak, Greyhound, and the charter bus depending on when a trip is booked, as do prices, so the above data speaks to the best deal possible. Depending on the destination, some students may be faced with a trade-off between travel time and price when comparing their options. The Transportation Office lists Greyhound and a rarely-used RideShare program as alternatives to the charter on the website.
The Monitor shared the above data tables with Idzi, and while he made clear students “can choose to use [the service] or not to,” he also expressed interest in getting the best deal, “Yes, I will bid out the NYC and Boston shuttles to three companies for the next school year. I will not just take the lowest bid though. I will always put service and safety FIRST.” To that end, he emphasized that he feels both Hale and Adonis Avanti have provided high-quality service to the College and students and it may be hard to find a similar level of service elsewhere.
Senior Jacob Hane from Western Massachusetts, “a hop, skip, and a jump” from campus, has taken Amtrak to get home. He shared that, “It’s never made me question my choice to [not] take the Boston bus because the $11 train ticket it is from Utica to Pittsfield is unbeatable.”
However, a junior who spoke on the condition of anonymity and has taken the NYC bus regularly affirmed that she felt it still was the best choice. She explained, “I don’t have a car, so if I wanted to take the train or something I would either need to get somebody to drive me or I’d need to pay for an Uber which is more money and also not super reliable,” and added, “the timing generally works out.” She also expressed that, as a woman, she felt safer taking the charter as opposed to public transportation.
The charter buses provided by Hamilton used to be a more competitive option, though. Spring Break 2019 round-trip prices were: Boston/NYC: $100, Albany Airport: $80, Syracuse Airport: $50, and Utica: $10. For last year’s winter break (20-21 academic year), prices increased to where they are now, except for Albany Airport and Syracuse Airport, which increased to $100 and $70, respectively. Both raised to their current prices starting with Fall Break last semester.
These price increases far outpaced inflation. Over the period of October 2019 to January 2022, inflation would have only increased prices by approximately 9.2%. Instead, prices increased dramatically for the round-trips, amounting to a real price increase for trips to Boston/NYC: +41%, Albany Airport: +41%, Syracuse Airport: +31%, and Utica: +91%. Asked the cause of these increases, Idzi said, “The prices were set for this year but I will look into them for next year to make sure they are still in line.” The previous Transportation Coordinator who made the original deals no longer works at Hamilton College.
The same junior who takes the NYC bus noticed these prices changes at the time: “I specifically remember them saying they were going to get more buses so that we could socially distance, I do not remember if they explicitly said the cost is increasing because of Covid.” However, “Once they stopped doing the social distancing, which I think would have been this year, they didn’t decrease the price again.”
A response from the Financial Aid Office regarding financial aid coverage of travel costs was not received by publishing time. This story will be updated if it is.
UPDATE: On February 22nd, the Financial Aid Office sent an email to approximately 350 students on behalf of the Hamilton Student Emergency Aid Society (SEAS) announcing that funding had been set aside to cover their ground transportation costs to and from Utica, Syracuse Airport, and Albany Airport for break. The Monitor was able to get comment from the Financial Aid Office after this article was originally published on February 21st. K. Cameron Feist ‘04, Director of Financial Aid, said that travel costs are already factored into families’ financial aid packages such that a family’s expected contribution will be decreased by the amount the College assesses required for a student’s travel based on their home address and a scale of $500 to $1,500 per academic year. He added that, “sensitivity around pricing is one that I share” and he hopes to work together with students to keep prices as low as possible.
Story updated 3/9/2022 to include new information.