May 27, 2005

Drunk van may come to those who wait

The late-night van service—nick-named the "drunk van" for its often-inebriated passengers—remains an object of consternation for those who ride it, despite the efforts of the Student Government Transportation Committee (SGTC). Results of a recent SGTC survey highlight the same concerns that student representatives discussed in a November meeting with the University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD) about the service.

"Here it is, May, and the problems are still here," said Kyle Lee, a first-year in the College and the chairman of the SGTC. Last week, when the survey had been up for one and a half weeks, about 1,000 students had responded.

Lee summed up the main problems as inefficient dispatching and circuitous routing—the same issues addressed in the November meeting, as reported by the Maroon. Students calling the dispatching number have complained of rude responses and unclear projections of the van's arrival time. "You kind of get the run-around," Lee said.

Additionally, the van drivers have a system of dropping students off in the order that the calls are received. This means that trips of just a few blocks are often unnecessarily extended to give priority to a previous caller.

These problems come as a surprise to the UCPD, which runs the van service. "We haven't heard any complaints lately," said Jeff Collier, assistant director of the UCPD.

Since the November meeting, the UCPD has purchased a seven-passenger minivan, bringing the total number of vehicles for the service up to three. According to Collier, only two vans are supposed to run each night because of the program's original design and staffing limitations. The third van functions as a backup in case one of the other vans needs maintenance.

As suggested by SGTC, the UCPD pushed to recruit student drivers, but was not met with any positive responses. Lee pointed out that peer drivers would put "more empathetic people at the wheel."

Currently, there are four workers on staff. On most nights, one will dispatch calls while two others drive two out of the three vans. "The vans have never been very fast, because there are only one or two vans," Collier said.

Lee noted that though the late-night van is not functioning to the satisfaction of students, it is still an important service to the University. "We really appreciate the UCPD," Lee said.

The service also helps ensure student security. "If you have an effective late-night van service, you're going to have safer students," Lee said.

A new committee spearheaded by Bill Michel, dean of students in the College, will take a more active role in addressing student grievances against the "drunk van." "I've certainly heard concerns from students about their ability to get home," Michel said.

Michel tapped Lee to be student co-chair of the committee, also chaired by Richard Mason, assistant director of the University House System.

Representatives from the UCPD, Office of Community and Government Affairs, Office of the Dean of Students in the University, and SG will form the committee.

Michel anticipates making a list of recommendations for the service by the end of fall quarter. Lee, who will be in Chicago over the next few months, hopes to get an early start on his work as co-chair. "Hopefully we can get some stuff done over the summer," he said.