Bar hoppers and party-goers can now stay out a little later and get home a little safer.
The University of Massachusetts has started a new program this semester centered around the Sober Shuttle, a regular-sized commuter bus that offers rides to students in early hours of the morning.
“Students are happy with a nice ride home,” said Student Government Association President Akshay Kapoor, who created the program. “At the end of the day, it’s the safety that matters most.”
The Sober Shuttle makes two stops on Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings at 1:20 and 2 a.m. The only pick-up stop is the Amherst Post Office in the center of town. From there, the bus loops around all of north Amherst — stopping at Pioneer Valley Transit Authority-designated stops near residential dorms and off-campus housing.
Student drivers operate the bus and a UMass police officer is on board for each ride.
For the first two nights of its existence, the Sober Shuttle had about 24 riders, Kapoor said, which met his prediction. He said, though, there were 70 riders on Sunday morning’s ride. He said that number will grow in coming weekends, especially in the spring when more students go out.
Kapoor said the shuttle has also aided the university’s relationship with Amherst, Mass. Citizens of the town have raised concerns for students’ well-being, Kapoor said. He called the Sober Shuttle “sort of an olive branch” with the town as it addresses “concerns for citizens and students.”
“It means a lot coming from students, for students,” he said.
The Sober Shuttle concept was on the mind of many SGA leaders for about seven or eight years, Kapoor said. Once he took office, though, he spearheaded the idea and brought it to life, tapping into the SGA’s reserve fund to support the program in its first year.
Last spring, the SGA approved an increase to student fees, which will fund the program moving forward. This increase, which will be $1.05 per student, will take effect in the next fiscal year, Kapoor said.
Kapoor was inspired to build the Sober Shuttle program after seeing similar ideas at different universities. This included the University of Florida, which has the Gator Aider — a bus that transports students around during sporting game days.
At Minnesota State University in Mankato, a similar program, the Sober Bus, was offered for homecoming weekend last fall. The university continued the program the following weekend due to its success, MSU spokesman Dan Benson said.
Buses ran from midnight to 3 a.m. on both Oct. 16 and Oct. 17 for a cost of $1. Seven areas — spread all throughout campus — were selected for drop-off and pick-up spots. No passengers could board or leave the bus at any other stops, Benson said.
The university also currently has the Stomper Express, which runs on the weekends and takes students out to mall and retail outlets in the area, Benson said. The school, he said, came to an agreement with the student government and calld for the bus rides.
Kapoor said the UMass shuttle is a pilot program, and he hopes to see it expand after he’s gone from the school. The next step, he said, was adding south Amherst to the bus’ route.
“We don’t leave any student behind.”
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