A ride on the MSA Express

University corporate environmental management sophomore T.J. Dubbs drives the MSA Express taxi Saturday night. The service runs from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. and is free to students.

Jennifer Whalen

University corporate environmental management sophomore T.J. Dubbs drives the MSA Express taxi Saturday night. The service runs from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. and is free to students.

Living on the St. Paul campus can cause some headaches for students that want to be out late in Minneapolis . Bailey Hall residents Sarah Spencer and Marissa Metzler had been with some friends Saturday night but needed to find a ride home. “We walked around for, like, an hour,” Spencer said. “I was seriously worried we wouldn’t get home tonight.” Luckily for the first-year students, the MSA Express — a free shuttle service that provides rides home on weekends for students in the campus community — came by. Although many patrons are appreciative of the service, some abuse it. Early Saturday night, a group of young women called for a ride from Stadium Village to Van Cleve Park . Some carried cups that smelled of alcohol, and the driver told them alcohol wasn’t allowed in the van. While most complied and left their drinks outside, one still brought a beer on board. Three decided to be dropped off at a fraternity. On the way out, one woman spilled her beer under the front passenger’s seat. “We’re not meant to be some type of party-hopping tool,” MSA Express driver and epidemiology student Amber Holzmeister said. “We’re here to help get people to their final destination at the end of the night.” But the drivers, who are mostly University students, have to use their own judgment. “If someone’s sick, unruly or passed out, we try to wake them up and if we can’t, we call 911,” driver and corporate environmental management sophomore TJ Dubbs said. Late Saturday night, one group asked for a ride home but one of them wasn’t allowed in the van because he was deemed too drunk, though Dubbs notified the individual’s residence hall staff. “He was just completely hammered,” Dubbs said. “I’d love to bring him with but he was much too intoxicated.” Holzmeister said having overly intoxicated riders can be counterproductive to the MSA Express mission, as they can distract the drivers and are a danger to other riders. Although the service isn’t heavily advertised, drivers take calls for rides from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. The two 11-seat vans travel to the St. Paul campus, the East and West banks, Dinkytown and southeast Como areas. Drivers Jason Loeffler, a genetics senior, and Dubbs take phone calls and then come to pick students up who need a ride. “Some are intoxicated and some aren’t,” Dubbs said. “A lot of people think we’re the ‘drunk bus’ but that’s not really the case.” Driving the van has its benefits — the drivers get paid regardless of whether they’re busy, and giving people a safe ride home is a reward in itself. “If you’re giving someone a ride from Como , you could be saving someone’s life,” Dubbs said. “They could’ve gotten mugged or sick and passed out somewhere.” MSA Express has undergone some changes in the past year. Over the spring and summer months, it switched from MSA sponsorship to being a program under Boynton Health Service. “Rather than having volunteers drive and navigate the van, the drivers and dispatchers will now be paid,” MSA President Mark Nagel said last week. The two vans are an expansion from last year’s one minivan, which tended to fill up fast. “Spring semester, it was very busy,” Holzmeister said. “It was harder to pick up everybody that needed a ride. My hope is that because we have so many more seats, that everybody will be able to get a ride.” Many students aren’t aware of the service. Before the van came by for Spencer and Metzler, they didn’t think they’d make it home. “I never heard of it,” Spencer said. “I thought if you missed the last [Campus Connector ] bus, you were stranded.” “It’s the U’s hidden secret,” Metzler said. —Jenn Whalen contributed to this report