Hitch a ride with MSA

Next spring, a free weekend van service will drop students off at their doorsteps.

Emily Banks

The Minnesota Student Association has been taking steps to make sure students don’t have to travel through dark and potentially dangerous neighborhoods beginning next semester.

Last month, MSA members voted to pursue a free weekend transportation service for students, and at Wednesday’s meeting they shared more of the details on the MSA Express.

With increased crime near campus this fall, MSA President Max Page said safe transportation in surrounding neighborhoods is a concern.

“Some of the proposals in the past, we’ve felt, just haven’t been efficient. They’ve been costly and ineffective,” Page said.

For example, a Campus Connector ran additional routes near the neighborhoods, but didn’t provide curb-to-curb pick up, he said.

For much of the semester, MSA members have been tossing around the idea of some kind of transportation service for students. They’ve settled on a van service that will function similarly to a taxi service.

Students will be able to call a phone number from about 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and be dropped off at their doorsteps if they’re within qualifying neighborhoods and show a University ID.

Nathan Olson, the academic and services chairman who leads the project, said the service will likely reach neighborhoods surrounding the East and West Banks of campus. MSA also hopes to use the transitway to reach the St. Paul campus, he said.

“The campus is fairly safe on its own, but we’re a city within a city and recent crime in surrounding neighborhoods shows that there is a need for reliable transportation for students,” Olson said.

MSA still needs to hammer out the details and purchase a van, but the project is in full swing. Olson said the next steps include buying a vehicle, recruiting drivers and promoting the service.

He said volunteers from the student body, beginning with MSA members, will drive the van and likely have to be at least 20-years-old because of insurance reasons. MSA plans to purchase insurance and liability that will cover all drivers and MSA.

“We’re going beyond the state-required minimum to make sure we’re addressing any of those concerns,” Olson said.

The proposed budget for MSA Express from January to June stands at about $12,000, and MSA already planned to commit $11,000 to the project.

Olson said he also contacted other groups, including the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, groups against drunk driving and the greek community to provide financial support.

Nehal Desai sits on the MSA Express committee and said she took a campus shuttle as a first-year student, but often got mixed signals about where it stops.

She said she’ll probably use the MSA Express when it begins.

“I think it’s a good use, especially for traveling from (the East Bank) to Dinkytown,” she said. “Hopefully students will get excited about it and use it.”

The University of Wisconsin-Madison offers a similar transportation option called SAFEride. The cabs run from 10:30 p.m. to 3 a.m. Riders must provide a University of Wisconsin student ID card and are allowed four rides per month. Students are also asked to donate $1.