Strengthening our fleet maintenance program

Read a message sent to the UC Santa Cruz community from Ed Reiskin, Vice Chancellor for Finance, Operations, and Administration.

Following the tragic Dec. 12 shuttle crash, UC Santa Cruz asked the California Highway Patrol (CHP) to inspect its 35-foot shuttles. Due to available resources, the CHP was able to inspect nine of the 12 shuttles. The CHP shared a preliminary report on Jan. 19 and provided UC Santa Cruz with five business days to review the report and ask questions about the findings.

These inspection results are separate from the ongoing investigation of the crash, and the shuttle involved was not part of this review. The UC Santa Cruz Police Department is actively investigating the crash, and we will share more information when it concludes.

With a commitment to openness and to ensure our campus has confidence in our transit services, UC Santa Cruz is sharing a summary of the findings, how we are addressing the findings, and the steps we will take over the coming months to ensure a more effective vehicle maintenance program. The full report is also available as a PDF, with personal identifying employee information redacted.

Four of our 35-foot shuttles were cleared for service by the CHP immediately following their inspection with another being roadworthy with some minor adjustments. We provided service at the start of winter quarter using these cleared shuttles and our smaller cutaway shuttles. The CHP placed five of the nine 35-foot shuttles out of service after identifying that emergency window exits required repairs to ensure they’re functioning as designed and where brake systems required adjustments.

While none of the issues included in this report were identified in our previous annual CHP inspections, including the one conducted in September 2023, the safety of everyone in our campus community is our highest priority and we are expeditiously addressing the report’s findings.

Below are the three primary areas identified for improvement in the CHP report and our plans to address them:

Conducting comprehensive shuttle inspections every six months or 6,000 miles

The CHP’s review of maintenance records showed that the campus has not been systematically inspecting shuttles at set intervals, either every six months or every 6,000 miles. In two instances, inspections were past due for a shuttle by 928 miles and for another by 335 days.

While these mixed intervals involved shuttles that were not in operation because they were in need of parts and/or repair, going forward, we will develop an enhanced process with additional internal reviews to be fully and consistently meeting or exceeding requirements. We will address any repairs and adjustments that are revealed before placing buses back in service.

Inspecting emergency exits at least every 90 days

The CHP’s review of maintenance records showed that the campus was not inspecting the emergency window exits every 90 days. The campus had been inspecting emergency window exits every 180 days. In one instance, an inspection for one shuttle was past due by 426 days.

We are developing an enhanced process with additional internal reviews to consistently conduct these inspections every 90 days and immediately address any issues that we discover. For both of these inspection requirements, we will confirm our compliance and share results on the TAPS website.

Ensuring all drivers meet state licensing requirements

The CHP’s review stated that one of the campus bus drivers was continuing to work without an up-to-date medical certificate on record with the California Department of Motor Vehicles. While this appears to be an error with the DMV’s database, as the driver did in fact consistently possess a valid medical certificate, we will be changing our procedures to make sure all drivers are maintaining required drivers licenses and medical certifications with the DMV, and that the DMV database and our records match. Additionally, we have completed a review of all shuttle drivers to ensure proper documentation is in place. All current drivers maintain both the appropriate licenses and medical certificates.

Because more than 50 percent of the shuttles inspected were placed out of service, the CHP assigned UC Santa Cruz an unsatisfactory rating and, as required by California Vehicle Code, designated the transit operation as meeting the classification of imminent danger to public safety.


Frequently Asked Questions

UC Santa Cruz Transportation and Parking Services operates a Campus Transit program to help students, faculty, and staff get around campus. The shuttles run two primary routes: a campus loop that goes from the base of campus at Bay and High streets through the academic core and back to the base, and an upper campus route that goes between the East Remote Parking Lot and the West Remote Parking Lot with stops along Heller Road, McLaughlin Drive, and Hagar Drive.

The shuttle drivers and fleet maintenance staff are trained professionals that share a commitment to high safety standards. They work closely together and are represented by AFSCME 3299.

How many shuttles does UC Santa Cruz have and how old are they?

UC Santa Cruz has approximately 30 shuttles in our Campus Transit fleet. Model years range from 1993 to 2014. In 2006, the shuttles manufactured in 1993 received new engines, transmissions, and modernized exhaust filter systems to minimize particulate emissions.

How are the buses maintained and how often are they inspected?

All university vehicle maintenance, including that performed on Campus Transit Shuttles, is initiated and completed by UC Santa Cruz Fleet Services; Transportation and Parking Services (TAPS) does not maintain shuttles.

Campus shuttles go through several types of regular inspection: before they are put into operation and annually by the California Highway Patrol.

Pre-trip inspections

Before any shuttle is put into operation, TAPS operators conduct standardized pre-trip inspections. Items that are inspected include, but are not limited to, gauges and warning lights, headlights, tail lights, signals, brakes, tires and wheels, doors and emergency equipment.

Any issues are reported to Fleet Services for immediate diagnoses and action. Vehicles that are deemed not roadworthy are secured, locked out, and only released back to TAPS when they are verified as safe to carry passengers.

Regular inspections

Multi-point safety inspections and routine maintenance are conducted by our technicians represented by AFSCME 3299 – this is the union that represents both TAPS' Campus Transit drivers and Fleet Services' Heavy Equipment Technicians – at regular intervals. Our inspection and preventive maintenance schedules are reviewed and approved by the California Highway Patrol. Any issues identified during safety inspections are immediately addressed or, for those issues where parts are not in hand, scheduled for follow-up services.

Annual inspections by the California Highway Patrol

The California Highway Patrol conducts an annual inspection of our heavy-duty maintenance program. Their inspectors review our work orders and visually inspect our equipment.

For more than two decades, UCSC’s maintenance program has received “satisfactory” ratings–the highest available. Our last inspection was in September 2023; no deficiencies were found with any of the shuttles examined by the CHP, including the one in the December 2023 crash.

During winter break, UC Santa Cruz requested the CHP conduct an off-cycle safety inspection of all 12 of campus’s available 35-foot shuttles. The CHP safety inspection began in January 2024. The CHP’s final report has revealed some important areas for improvement and resulted in an unsatisfactory rating. The inspection showed that the campus has not been systematically inspecting shuttles at set intervals; that the campus was not inspecting the emergency window exits every 90 days; and that the campus needs to ensure that DMV records are consistent with campus records.

While none of the issues included in this report were identified in our previous annual CHP inspections, the safety of everyone in our campus community is our highest priority and we are expeditiously addressing the report’s findings.

What inspections were conducted on the shuttle involved in the crash?

The shuttle involved in the crash was inspected and cleared by the California Highway Patrol in September 2023 as part of CHPs annual review and no issues were identified. This shuttle also had a regular multi-point safety inspection and maintenance one week prior to the crash. Critical safety points were checked and adjusted such as the tires, brakes, steering, and suspension. These inspections conform to the CHP’s recommendations. Shuttles under inspection are also road tested by a professional mechanic both before and after the inspection.

The shuttle was deemed to be within safe operating parameters by Fleet Service personnel.

Are campus shuttles older than the federal government recommends?

While the federal government determines a “minimum life” for vehicles purchased with federal dollars, it does not dictate the retirement age or useful life of a transit vehicle. The longevity of a transit vehicle depends on a number of factors, such as whether the vehicle was in heavy, medium or light usage and whether it was “repowered” by receiving a new engine and transmission and extending its roadworthy condition.

This “minimum life” determination is mostly intended to apply to buses that are in heavy usage–such as those that carry passengers across the country or for transit operations that serve major metropolitan areas. UC Santa Cruz shuttles run for about 6.5 hours each day for 5 days a week through campus.

Is it common for transit agencies to use older buses?

There is a large secondary market for buses, including some that are of the same age as the shuttles in our fleet. Nearly all of the UCSC shuttles were first operated by a local transit agency and sold to us through a company that re-markets buses as its primary mission.

When will the campus get new shuttles?

UC Santa Cruz is in the process of procuring two fully electric shuttles from Gillig and developing a plan to fully electrify its fleet.

Electric buses are in high demand and the two 35-foot Gillig Battery Electric Buses are expected to enter the production line in September 2025 and be delivered to campus in mid-to-late October 2025.

The campus will soon be deploying four newer diesel buses, and is exploring other options for accelerating the retirement of its older shuttles.

Did one of the shuttles catch on fire last year?

Yes, a shuttle bus that was in operation caught fire on Nov. 13, 2023. Students and the driver evacuated the shuttle and the fire was quickly extinguished by responding units from the Santa Cruz Fire Department. No one was injured in this incident.

An investigation pointed to a failed sensor in the diesel after-treatment system, which was installed in the bus along with a new engine and transmission in 2006. These systems are maintained annually and inspected semi-annually, per industry standard. Our maintenance team concluded the sensor failure to be an isolated event, but out of an abundance of caution, campus bus technicians reinspected all similar diesel after-treatment systems in the fleet. No deficiencies were found.

Will Metro be taking over the loop shuttle service?

UC Santa Cruz has no plans to have Metro take over its loop bus service, or any other element of Campus Transit services.

For the past several months, campus leaders have been in discussions with Metro about possible service improvements on campus routes, and look forward to continuing those discussions with them.

Where can I find more information about UCSC transit service?

Transportation and Parking Services provides information about all its services online and also publishes a monthly newsletter with news and updates. Anyone can sign up to receive it on the TAPS homepage. TAPS is also active on X (formerly Twitter) and Instagram.