Cost estimate doubles as MSA launches late bus program

The program aims to increase student safety by providing an alternative to walking late at night.

Jens Krogstad

The Minnesota Student Association’s late-night bus traveled through the Minneapolis campus and surrounding neighborhoods for the first time last weekend.

MSA officials said their goal is to increase safety by giving students an alternative to walking late at night or driving when drunk drivers are more likely to be on the roads.

A two-week pilot program running from last Wednesday to Nov. 1 is now expected to cost $15,000, up from an original $6,500 estimate, said Tom Zearley, MSA housing and facilities chairman. The extra $8,500 came from MSA reserve funds.

Zearley said MSA’s willingness to more than double the cost reflects the importance the organization places on the program.

“We kind of look at this as the most visible project MSA has done in a long time,” Zearley said. “And it’s been a project in the works for two years.”

Because the program is new, many students were not yet aware of it over the weekend.

Saturday night, history senior Ryan Martell and his girlfriend were at the West Bank bus stop after a night on the town when the late-night bus rolled up.

Martell, trying to get to the corner of Huron Boulevard and Washington Avenue, asked where the bus was going and hopped on.

With a hip-hop radio station thumping in the background, Martell said he did not know what the bus was, only that it was taking him where he needed to go.

“No, this is the bus to go that way,” he said, pointing across the bridge down Washington Avenue.

MSA Forum member Tony Zammit and Kyle Potter hopped on with five of their friends late Saturday night, on their way to the new student-run Dinky Dogs in the Dinkydome.

When one of their friends questioned if they were taking the fastest route, Zammit said the bus’s purpose is safety.

“It’s not faster than walking. It’s safer than walking,” he said.

Two 19-passenger buses stop every 15 minutes at bus stops marked by posters.

An MSA representative riding one of the buses Saturday night estimated approximately 60 people rode it that night.

A student security monitor rides the bus from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday through Saturday.

MSA originally hoped to start the program in early September, but it was delayed when the University Parking and Transportation Services and the administration raised concerns.

One sticking point for Parking and Transportation Services was that the bus, originally set to run every 30 minutes, did not add to existing city bus routes.

Zearley said the real work will begin once the pilot program is complete.

“Obviously, a big obstacle we’ll have to overcome is getting the money,” he said. “But there is student demand.”