Sober Shuttle provides students with safe transportation alternative

By Patrick Hoff

Justin Surgent/Collegian

Each weekend, throngs of University of Massachusetts students go into town to unwind at the bars after a stressful week of classes. To ensure their safe return, the Student Government Association created the “Sober Shuttle,” a free transportation alternative to walking or driving home.

“UMass does nothing after the fact, after people have a drink,” said SGA President Akshay Kapoor. “We‘re not going to kid ourselves and say people don’t drink. So my goal was, if people are going to drink … how do we make sure every student gets home?”

Kapoor’s musings resulted in the “Sober Shuttle,” which was implemented at the beginning of this semester. Running on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights from 1:20 to 2 a.m., the Shuttle picks up students in front of the Amherst post office and makes stops at Southwest Residential Area, North Apartments, Hobart Lane, Puffton Village and Brandywine Apartments.

The shuttle uses PVTA busses and student drivers. A UMass police officers also rides the bus to keep students safe and orderly.

Kapoor said that, due to the short amount of time the program has been running, it is difficult to approximate the number of students who ride the Shuttle on an average night, but estimated that it is probably between 70 and 100 students.

“It’s really off-key. I mean, there’s the nights where we spend entire nights with only 20 to 25 people, and then there’s nights where there’s hundreds,” he said.

Kapoor added that he expected more people to ride the bus after spring break when the weather gets nicer and students are more likely to go out.

“What’s important to keep in mind here is that these are people who otherwise wouldn’t have a ride home,” he said. “They’d be walking or driving themselves or taking a cab. So every one person who rides this bus is potentially taking one drunk driver off the road … So even if one person rides it, we’ve done our job.”

Funding for the “Sober Shuttle” came from a referendum question students were asked to vote on in December. The question asked students if they were in favor of raising the Student Activities Trust Fund Fee from $97 to $125 “to sustain and enhance RSOs, student services, RSO programming, Agencies, Spring Concert, Area Governments, and student initiatives such as a sober shuttle program and the Collegiate Readership Program.”

The referendum passed clearing the way for the “Sober Shuttle,” which costs $1.05 per student to operate for the entire semester.

“This is a program paid for by students to address a student problem, which the town is very appreciative of, he said.

Kapoor said he was conscious of the off-campus residential community when creating the program, aiming to cut down on complaints to the University about noise late at night.

“That’s why we have a stop in Southwest,”  he said. “That’s really to say to people, ‘Hey instead of walking through the neighborhoods where there’s a lot of families living, get a faster, safer ride home to the same destination.’”

“What it’s done for our town relations has been amazing,” he added.

Kapoor has been working on this program for two years and had wanted to launch it at the beginning of his term in May, but was unsuccessful due to various logistical issues. Before Kapoor, there had been close to five years of experimentation of trying to find the right sober driving alternative.

“It’s one of those things where the University has wanted a program like this for a long time and now it’s finally in place, and the impact has been huge,” Kapoor said.

Patrick Hoff can be reached at [email protected]