Last year, Alexis Zhou, U3 Arts, envisioned starting a student-run co-operative transportation service on the East Coast for McGill students. Zhou, disappointed in her experiences with New York City’s Port Authority Terminal and the Toronto Bus Terminal, hoped to satisfy a demand for affordable transportation among McGill students. Along with Matteo Trulli, U3 Management, Zhou founded McGill University Student Transport (MUSTBUS) to provide students with affordable transportation to major North American cities, including New York, Boston, and Toronto.
“Our immediate goal is to expand the college experience at McGill to really include Toronto, Quebec City, NYC[,] and Boston as a part of the McGill experience,” Zhou and Trulli wrote in an email to The McGill Tribune. “Our ultimate goal is to link universities in Eastern Canada and [the] Northeastern United States that are poorly served by intercity transportation and allow their students to go places for cheap.”
To bring their idea to life, Zhou and Trulli’s team worked to obtain legal non-profit status and gauge interest. In February 2020, they ran a pilot route and sold tickets to and from New York City for $30 each.
“The February 2020 pilot trip went very smoothly,” Zhou and Trulli wrote. “The trip sold out pretty quickly and we were at capacity. We chose New York City because it is the largest metropolitan area in North America and it is [six] hours away. We were like, why not [?]”
This “why not?” attitude sums up the MUSTBUS project. After all, McGill students wanted better access to other North American metropolises, and there was no reason why they could not make it happen themselves. Since that pilot trip to New York City, MUSTBUS has done extensive research to make their program as efficient and accessible as possible. Part of this involved establishing a relationship with the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU).
“To make this possible, [we] needed [to conduct] extensive research on the industry, [and work on] negotiation[s] with bus companies and SSMU,” Zhou and Trulli wrote. “We were only now able to go onto the SSMU referendum after pitching multiple ideas [….] We first thought of registering as a SSMU club but then it didn’t work out. We decided to rather focus on becoming our own legal entity so that we can operate more efficiently and really, just [give] everybody the opportunity to travel.”
On Nov. 13, MUSTBUS announced that the referendum on the continuation of the program passed, with 85 per cent of students voting in favor of the project’s continued development. The co-operative plans to propose a small, opt-outable fee next semester that will fund the service in order to keep it affordable, though this fee was not associated with the most recent referendum.
The passing of the referendum was very exciting for Zhou, Trulli, and the entire MUSTBUS team. Though, like many other organizations, MUSTBUS has been forced to put operations on hold due to the pandemic, the organizing team is still planning ahead for the post-COVID-19 future.
“We’re not operating any buses during the pandemic, but we’re continuously strengthening and building our organizational capacity and preparing to offer the best travel experience for the upcoming year,” Zhou and Trulli wrote.
Once it is safe to travel and the COVID-19–related public health regulations are lifted, MUSTBUS promises to continue their mission to make inter-North American travel accessible for McGill students for years to come.