CHANCELL-ING: Driving Home the Importance of Partnership

CHANCELL-ING: Driving Home the Importance of Partnership

 Unitrans celebrated its 100 millionth rider and 56th anniversary on February 28, 2024
Gabriela Jimenez, a political science major, is applauded for winning the "Golden Ticket" during the celebration of Unitrans' 100 millionth rider and 56th anniversary on February 28, 2024 at the Memorial Union Bus Terminal. Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis

Most of us are familiar with the red buses that wind through the UC Davis campus and surrounding city streets are a defining element of Davis life. Whether they are the stylish double-deckers from London that started operating in 1968 or from the newer fleet that runs on electricity, these Unitrans buses are a core element of shuttling both students and townspeople around Davis.

The numbers tell the story of an impactful town-gown relationship. Just last year, Unitrans transported 3 million riders and is on track to serve 20,000 riders each weekday during the current academic year. A celebration was held this week to commemorate not only Unitrans' 56th anniversary but its 100 millionth rider.

Such a milestone was made possible through decades of strong partnership between UC Davis, the Associated Students, University of California, Davis (ASUCD) and the city of Davis.

The student-run ASUCD launched Unitrans in 1968. Unitrans only had two buses when service started that February and a fare of 15 cents a ride.

Gary May Chancell-ing A Town-Gown Newspaper Column

Unitrans launched a new era in 1972 when it partnered with the city of Davis. The city's funding support allowed Unitrans to expand its services to include the general public among its riders.

Now, Unitrans rolls with a fleet of 48 buses that covers 18 routes around Davis. With its 225 student employees,  it’s one of the largest student-run bus systems in the country. Unitrans is also unique in that it's the only transit system in the country that still uses vintage double-decker buses in daily service. 

Along with serving student transportation needs, Unitrans provides dependable job opportunities for our students. Most work as drivers. Others have roles at Unitrans as mechanics, conductors, marketing assistants and other administrative positions. Most of the frontline supervisors and managers are students as well.

Setting students up for life success is what UC Davis is all about. Some former Unitrans workers found successful career routes after graduation, including executive leadership roles at public transit agencies across the country. Jeff Flynn, the general manager for Unitrans, is also an Aggie alum from the class of 2005. 

I appreciate the way Unitrans understands the needs of our students so well, to the point of offering free service during finals weeks. Students are already stressed enough at that point, so anyone who’s misplaced their student ID or Unitrans pass has one less thing to worry about. Sometimes, it’s the little considerations that make a big difference in student life.

Looking ahead, Unitrans remains committed to reducing its carbon footprint. Four more electric buses will be added to the fleet this coming fall. That makes for a total of 14 electric buses, the most in the entire Sacramento region. Thanks to strong university and city policies that support innovation, we will remain at the forefront of clean electric technology with Unitrans.

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to take a ride on Unitrans. Not only can you leave the driving to someone else, but you can do your part to ease traffic congestion and air pollution. Undergraduate students, youth 18 and younger, seniors 60 and older and customers with disabilities can ride for free. Otherwise, the fare is just $1.25 per ride. 

The enduring partnership between Unitrans and the city exemplifies the strength of our town-gown relationship, one that makes us California's ultimate college town. Here's to the 100 millionth Unitrans rider and the millions more that are bound to follow.