MSA wants more rides home

Students push to expand the Gopher Chauffeur, but money is tight.

Kyle Stowe

In response to the recent violent crimes on and around the University of Minnesota campus, the Minnesota Student Association wants to expand a popular service aimed at getting students home safely.

MSA is in talks with Boynton Health Service officials about adding Gopher Chauffeur service on Thursday nights and extending its pick-up hours, but paying for it could be an issue.

MSA President Mike Schmit said student government wants expanded Gopher Chauffeur service as well as promotion for the University’s security monitor escort service, because “they’ve proven to be successful in mitigating the effects of crime.”

University police Deputy Chief Chuck Miner said there’s no record of someone using either service becoming the victim of a crime.

“They’re obviously working how they’re supposed to,” Schmit said. “Now we want to figure out how we can improve and expand them so they’re more accessible to more students.”

Currently, the Gopher Chauffeur runs on Friday and Saturday nights from 10 p.m. until 2 a.m. Dave Golden, Boynton director of public health and communications, said Boynton is taking MSA’s recommendations “very seriously.”

Expanding the Gopher Chauffeur to Thursdays would cost about $7,000 per semester, Golden said, primarily for payroll.

The move could happen as soon as next semester, contingent on funding from MSA, the Office of Student Affairs or another group, Golden said. It could also be part of Boynton’s student services fees request in the spring.

Psychology sophomore Amanda Hedberg said it makes sense to add the extra night because many students go out Thursday nights.

“A lot of students don’t have class Friday, so Thursday night becomes Friday night,” she said. “Socially, it’s a big night.”

Because many of the recent violent crimes near campus have occurred after 2 a.m., Schmit said MSA is also recommending the Gopher Chauffeur extend its hours until at least 3 a.m.

Boynton is considering changing the service’s hours, Golden said, but extra hours come with additional costs.

“We want to do what’s best for the student body,” he said. “We need to figure out if pushing the hours back makes the most sense.”

Biomedical engineering junior Seneca Thornley said later hours would help more students get home safely.

“A lot of students stay out past 2 [a.m.] and don’t have the option to take Gopher Chauffeur,” she said. “So they just walk home alone, which is risky.”

Promoting the escort service

MSA also hopes to further promote University police’s security monitor escort service, 624-WALK.

Schmit said MSA is polling students on the escort service, which provides students a security monitor to walk with until they safely reach their destination on or near campus.

MSA members think the service isn’t used to its full potential, Schmit said.

“We want to find out what students really think about it,” he said.

Hedberg said she would rather call a friend to walk with her if she felt nervous walking around campus late at night, because she doesn’t feel comfortable walking with a security monitor she doesn’t know.

“Even though I’m sure 624-WALK monitors are trained, they’re just average students,” she said. “If I’m going to walk with a student, I’d rather walk with one that I know.”

Miner said the demand for escorts varies but typically increases after University police send University-wide crime alerts.

“We wish demand would be high all the time, not just when there’s a crime alert,” Miner said. “We want the service to be used consistently throughout the year.”

University police have sent alerts for 12 violent crimes so far this fall. Last fall, they sent out alerts for seven violent crimes.

When demand is higher, Miner said, University police can serve as escorts.

Statistics senior Zhengyang Yang said he uses the escort service often and more students should.

“It should be common sense for students,” he said. “It’s one of the best ways to ensure your safety when you’re walking around campus late at night.”

Schmit said MSA is also surveying students about how safe they feel around campus. MSA will lobby the University’s Board of Regents and other bodies for improvements like better lighting.

“We can use that as leverage when we go to the decision makers to say, ‘We need to have better street lighting, we need to have better resources, so that students are safe,’” he said.

The survey, which MSA sent out to students Thursday, had already received more than 3,000 responses by Friday.