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Night Owl closes first month with many riders

By Michael Sugerman, Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 10, 2014

At the beginning of the Winter 2014 semester, Central Student Government and the Interfraternity Council unveiled their late-night bus route, the Night Owl. The pilot program fulfilled what Business senior Michael Proppe, CSG president, called his “most difficult-to-achieve campaign promise.”

A month after the system’s launch, the Night Owl has been met with positive student feedback, Proppe said. Running Thursday through Saturday from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. each night, the Night Owl buses have amassed 320 riders per night on average, according to data from the University’s Parking and Transportation Services, which have been contracted to run the service.

The Night Owl bus routecurrently employs two Blue Buses, making stops at popular off-campus locations, as well as Oxford Residence Hall, East University Street and the Thompson street area. There are also transfers for North Campus and the Central Campus Transit Center.

Proppe said his goal is to eventually have 500 riders per night, adding that this cutoff would make a good return on CSG’s investment.

CSG and the IFC each spent $15,000 to start the Night Owl bus program, which covers the service fees for the Winter 2014 semester. The CSG assembly contributed an additional $10,000 to cover advertising and other incidental costs.

The system came as a response to a perceived increase in crime near campus. In a January press release, CSG officials said 84 percent of University crime alerts occurred late at night, with 67 percent of them happening off-campus.

“People feel safer now when they’re not on campus,” said LSA sophomore Michael Fakhoury, CSG chair of off-campus transportation and safety. “They have a safe ride to get home. It’s free, it’s accessible and they’re able to maneuver easily.”

Fakhoury said the current rider rate is good but has room for improvement.

Now, CSG is reaching out to off-campus communities to increase Night Owl ridership. Next week, fliers will be distributed to off-campus residential areas highly populated by mostly students, like the Varsity Apartments and Sterling 411 Lofts, Fakhoury said.

Proppe added that CSG is working to add the Night Owl routes to the University's "Magic Bus" application, although he said this hasn't been possible because the University cannot ascertain who owns the software.

The drive to increase the number of students taking the Night Owl reflects CSG’s efforts to expand the program and make it marketable to the University’s Administration, which Proppe said he hopes will fund the late night bus routes starting next year.

During Night Owl’s planning stages in June, the University’s parking and transportation administrators told CSG representatives that 20 riders per bus per hour on average would put CSG in a place to secure funding for a permanent route. Ridership already exceeds this rate.

Although CSG representatives will not give a formal funding proposal until March, Proppe said administrators and the University’s Board of Regents have already given the project soft support.

“This is a kind of important initiative, and it’s relatively inexpensive for the University to take on,” Proppe said. “If we can get to 500 (riders per night), that’d really just blow it out of the water. It’s really our plan not to just continue the program, but to expand as well.