Tumbling down the streets of Merced, CatTracks buses have become a common sight in town.
The blue and white buses act as the main transit service for UC Merced students to get around the city and campus. But there is more to CatTracks than just a simple bus line.
Buses have always been the transportation of choice for those willing to trade in some of the creature comforts of a personal vehicle to save some money. And in the most basic sense, that is why most students choose to take CatTracks.
The bus fare is a part of the students' tuition, so all bus riders need to do is flash their school ID to gain access to the CatTracks service
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By taking the bus, students who need to commute in or out of town save money on parking permits, gas and the other expenses that go into maintaining a car.
But the benefits of CatTracks go beyond the economics. Friendships are made. Students who might not usually associate with each other might strike up a conversation and find something in common with their fellow bus rider that they might not have known otherwise.
Students also have a chance to interact with the bus drivers, since they see them week in and week out. The bus drivers are always friendly and open to conversing with the students during the buses' long treks through Merced.
CatTracks buses have also grown to reflect the students who ride them.
Besides being a way to get students from Point A to Point B, the buses have also provided services that are unexpected. For instance, at any given moment, a CatTracks bus can become the site of a catnap for a student who pulled an extra long study session the night before.
Or it can become library-on-wheels for students who are trying to cram that last bit of information before a mid-term.
An added benefit that I didn't realize would be a part of the bus riding experience was the extra time you're given to mentally collect yourself.
When you're driving a car, your attention has to be focused on the road and the traffic around you. When you're on a bus, you can gather the energy to start the day, or let yourself unwind once it's over.
During the times in the school year when one day seems to melt into another, a little time to let someone else take the driver's seat is always welcome.
CatTracks features one more benefit that not only helps students, but also the city. At times, even for students, it seems that UC Merced is a community unto itself.
A small, self-sustaining, colony built on an old golf course on the outskirts of town.
In a way, CatTracks acts as a line between the relative isolation of the university and the bustling heart of the city.
For students who live on campus, many of whom don't own cars, this gives them an opportunity to explore, shop and go to various events around town. For students who live off-campus, this gives them a chance to be taken to school without having to deal with most of the stresses of the daily commute.
At the start of this semester, I brought a car up to Merced for the first time.
Unlike the previous semester, I was no longer obligated to take CatTracks to get to school from my off-campus apartment.
Yet, when considering the additional costs I would have to undertake to drive to the UC on a daily basis, I decided to continue to use CatTracks.
I may not use the bus as often as I used to, but taking advantage of all the services that the university offers clearly enhances the college experience.
As the school continues to expand, CatTracks will continue to play an integral part of campus transportation.
Like most other college campuses, students need help getting from classes to other areas around campus.
CatTracks has already acknowledged the needs of a growing university by incorporating two more stops to accommodate students who simply want to get from one side of the campus to another.
So if you start to see more blue and white buses within the coming years, take it as a sign that UC Merced is continuing to move forward.
Antonio Sierra is a literature major and writing minor at UC Merced. He is from Los Angeles.