Gopher Chauffeur launches Thursday night service

Demand for the service is “record high.”

by Marion Renault

The University of Minnesota’s Gopher Chauffeur service will now run on Thursday nights, a change following talks with the Minnesota Student Association.

The student shuttling service is also looking at changing its hours next semester to 11:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m. from its current 10:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. schedule.

MSA took up the issue in response to recent violent crimes on and around campus, pushing for extended pick-up hours and Thursday night service.

“It was one of the things that was at the top of our agenda, and it really turned out the way we wanted it to,” said MSA President Mike Schmit. “It was a great turnaround, maybe not for the best reasons, but it went through really quickly.”

While the final decision to add Thursday service was made early last week, the University had been considering the change for some time, said Amelious Whyte, assistant dean of students and chief of staff.

“It’s been under discussion a while,” he said.

The push to move forward came from this year’s uptick in crime near campus and the resulting focus on campus safety, said Dave Golden, Boynton director of public health and communications.

“Safety concerns on campus … definitely prompted it,” he said. “It’s just responding to a need and getting it out there sooner than later.”

Golden said in a previous interview the expansion would cost about $7,000 per semester, primarily for payroll.

Seven new drivers will be trained early next week, and more will be recruited for next spring, said health advocate advisor Julie Sanem.

Gopher Chauffeur reserve funds and student services fees will partly cover the expansion.

The Office for Student Affairs  will take on the remaining costs, to hold over Gopher Chauffer until it can make an increased request for student services fees. It will cover the cost for spring and the 2014-2015 academic year, said Whyte.

“We already have the vans, so it’s not that expensive,” said Schlapper.  “It’s just adding staff and personnel.”

About 420 students use the Gopher Chauffeur every weekend.

“It’s been our busiest semester ever since running the service,” said Schlapper.

Last fall, Gopher Chauffeur shuttled more than 4,900 students. So far this fall, it’s served almost 4,500, on track to outpace last year’s demand.

Tim Garay, a psychology and public health senior who’s been a Gopher Chauffeur driver for three years, said he’s noticed an increase in calls.

“It’s definitely been a lot busier,” he said. “It does get really stressful, especially when you get behind and you have a lot of people.”

Matt Broshat, a marketing junior who is wrapping up his first semester at Gopher Chauffeur, said he gives anywhere from 20 to 30 rides in a night.

“There’s not much downtime,” he said.

Though he doesn’t expect it to be as popular as the weekend shuttle, Garay said he thinks the extended Thursday night service will be a good addition to Gopher Chauffeur.

 “Instead of a 45-minute walk home in the cold, it’s a five minute warm car ride,” he said.

Schmit said he hopes students will take advantage of the new day.

“From the student perspective, we can be accountable for ourselves in being educated on existing services and not walking home alone,” he said. “It’s shared responsibility between us, the University and [University Police Department].”

“[This] offers students accessibility to existing services that have been proven successful in the past,” he said.

MSA still hopes to shift the hours for taking calls to end at 3:00 a.m. instead of 2:00 a.m.

“If you look at the crime alerts, a good chunk of them have been after 2:00 a.m,” Schmit said. “If you call at 2:30, then you’ve got to walk home, you’ve got to call a cab. So we’re trying to make it as accessible as possible.”