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Denise Jewell Gee: Round-the-clock ‘drunk bus’ between UB campuses needs to be shut down

Let’s not be naïve. The idea that hundreds of University at Buffalo students are boarding campus shuttles after midnight on weekends to hit the libraries and use campus labs is about as likely as students writing term papers on typewriters and living in single-sex dorms with curfews.

It’s hardly a secret that the unofficial name for UB’s late-night Stampede shuttle bus between the North and South campuses is the “drunk bus.”

A recent account in The News of a weekend night in the city’s University Heights neighborhood makes clear that some students have little respect for the area they’ve claimed as party central. It’s also clear that the university’s policy of shuttling students around the clock between the North Campus in Amherst and the South Campus in Buffalo is fueling the late-night influx of students into University Heights.

There may be students who legitimately need to travel between the campuses late at night or early in the morning for work or study. But that’s not what most students are using the shuttle for in the hours after midnight on weekends.

“There’s no reason for it to be 24 hours other than making it a party bus on the weekends,” said Mickey Vertino, president of the University Heights Collaborative, which has sought better connections between long-term residents and students. “But we also want them to be safe. We want them to be able to get back and forth from the campuses to study and even to socialize, but we’ve got to tone this down.”

Vertino and members of the collaborative are asking for compromise, curtailing the frequency of buses on late weekend nights and shutting them down in the middle of the night.

It’s a reasonable request. Student safety is important – you don’t want these kids driving drunk – but you also don’t want to facilitate the party scene.

UB has taken steps to address concerns of long-term residents and of students who live in University Heights, creating Off-Campus Student Services and collaborating with Buffalo police and neighborhood residents.

“There is an active UB police presence at the bus stops to monitor the behavior of students who use the bus for transportation to social events,” said UB spokesman John Della Contrada, who noted that students take late-night shuttles for a variety of reasons, including getting home after working in campus dining facilities and shops.

But Vertino and residents are looking for more community engagement from UB, additional community policing and more attention to housing. This would go a long way to keeping both students and their neighbors safe.

The good news is UB President Satish K. Tripathi has agreed to meet with residents this week to discuss quality-of-life concerns. University District Common Council Member Rasheed N.C. Wyatt sees that as a positive sign common ground can be found to curb the use of the shuttle buses as a direct route to off-campus parties. “You can’t even drive up the street, there are so many students,” Wyatt said of the roving crowds late at night. “That is not what the Stampede, I think, is for.”

Wyatt made clear not every student is a problem. UB undergraduates have volunteered to plant trees and work on houses to reduce blight in his district. There’s plenty of positives that UB and its students bring to University Heights. The drunk bus isn’t among them.