One Sunday in September 2020, dozens of students packed into a Marguerite bus on its final day of service. The bus, whose route connected Stanford to popular shopping spots in Mountain View, was so full that many students had to stand up.
Casey Butcher ’22 recounted riding that last Shopping Express bus, a service she had used every week since she discovered it as a frosh. Two and a half years later, it is still discontinued.
“It was a game changer. Life became more fun for me,” Butcher said. “I think I’m definitely not the only FLI student who found the Shopping Express very liberating. It was a great equalizer when everybody else was, you know, buying expensive Uber rides.”
Free transportation has been provided at Stanford since its founding in the late 1880s, when a horse and 12-person buggy provided service to the train station on El Camino Real. Eventually, the service transformed into the “Marguerite,” a bus shuttle service named after one of the horses. Though most routes were restored after pandemic-induced pauses, three routes remain indefinitely suspended.
In a petition published Feb. 16 which has garnered nearly 1,600 signatures as of Sunday, the Undergraduate Senate (UGS) advocates for the reinstatement of the N and O Marguerite lines and the Shopping Express. The petition cited “affordability, public safety, and equity” among other concerns as reasons to bring back the free bus routes.
The N and O lines serviced transit to and from the CalTrain platform in Palo Alto at night and on the weekends, and the Shopping Express connected students every day of the week to shopping destinations including Target and Walmart. All Marguerite routes are free and open to the public.
According to the Graduate Student Council (GSC) Bill on Affordability, the reinstatement of the Shopping Express and the N and O lines would cost the University $1 million total, a figure which represents just 0.01% of the 2022 Stanford Operating Budget.
“We understand the importance of the Marguerite shuttle and a proposal to reinstate some of the shopping express service is currently under consideration,” Senior Director of University Media Relations and Issues Management Stett Holbrook wrote in an email to The Daily.
Holbrook said that “in the meantime,” students who need transportation help when the Marguerite is not running should use 5-SURE, the free student-run service providing rides to and from locations on campus as well as the CalTrain. The service runs from 5 p.m. until 2 a.m.
5-SURE leadership recently acknowledged concerns over long wait times due to increased student demand and staff shortages, but said the service is working to improve this quarter.
UGS co-chair Amira Dehmani ’24, who created the petition, said that administration, including Provost Persis Drell who oversees the budget, told her that the reason they did not reinstate the N and O or Shopping Express lines was because of “low ridership prior to the pandemic.” Dehmani said multiple members of University administration said that while the school had the resources, they did not have current evidence that students, especially undergraduates, “actually care” about the Marguerite.
“I was like, ‘Oh, I guess I’ll prove you wrong,’” Dehmani said. “In 24 hours, we had over 1,000 people saying they wanted the Marguerite back.”
Pre-pandemic in 2019, 91,936 riders used the Shopping Express line to access affordable groceries and housing supplies, according to the GSC Bill.
When Butcher returned to campus as a senior, she said she emailed Stanford Transportation “a number of times” to ask if and when Stanford planned to reinstate the Shopping Express to alleviate “the challenges their suspension posed to the FLI community.”
Butcher said she only heard back one time, told by a representative from Stanford Transportation that a “lack of parking revenue” was the reason for continued suspension.
Artur Barbosa Carneiro ’25, who took two gap years, said he used the Marguerite frequently when he was a frosh in 2019, with fewer friends owning cars and less money to take Ubers. He described the pre-pandemic Marguerite as a more reliable and popular transportation option.
“Now, I’m kind of afraid to look if they’re available,” Barbosa Carneiro said. “Like, the past experience has not been great for finding an actual working line. It’s not a thing anymore like it was in the past.”
For many students, the services provided by the free shuttle were sometimes “the only option,” according to Barbosa Carneiro, especially for some international students like himself.
“You come to the country with fewer resources than domestic students,” Barbosa Carneiro said. “You’re not going to have your parents to drive you to campus. You’re not going to have your friends drive you around. Your money is more limited.”
Other than affordability, safety is another major reason cited for the push to restore the lines. In response to several incidents of sexual violence in the fall, the UGS’ Resolution To Address Sexual Violence Responses On Campus demanded the reinstatement of the N and O lines.
The N and O lines, known as the “Midnight Express,” were specifically created in 1998 in an effort to improve campus safety at night. The route connected campus to Palo Alto on the weekends from 8 p.m. to 2:30 a.m.
Butcher called the lack of funding “tone deaf.” Without the N and O this year, Barbosa Carneiro said that he returned from a trip to San Francisco with friends to the station at night, and believing the Uber cost to be too high, they walked for 30 minutes back to their dorms in the dark.
The old Marguerite expanded equity by enabling students to access off-campus fun, according to Butcher.
“I feel like that’s an important thing. We shouldn’t just have to settle for, ‘Oh, we want affordable groceries,’ like, suddenly I have the option to go to Teaspoon,” Butcher said. “The Marguerite was a way for me to get vital supplies, but also just go out with friends.”
Dehmani said many people she talked to said that they would use weekend services when they have more availability to go off campus. Other signers of the petition mentioned that the late-night, weekend and shopping routes would allow students “to not just live but thrive.”
Butcher said she noticed many of the in-person activities Stanford restored after the pandemic are the ones that can “increase revenue,” including classes and athletics events. By contrast, she said, “fun” activities such as the Shopping Express, Late Nights at Arrillaga and the “Welcome Home” Carnival at FloMo have not been funded to fully return.
“I’m urging the younger students to get angry. They need to know what they’re missing,” Butcher said. “This was our Stanford. It used to be a lot more fun.”