After years of transporting as many as 1,400 students each weekend night from the University at Buffalo North Campus to South Campus, the UB Stampede bus system is both branching out and cutting back.
Starting Aug. 25, the weekend before the fall semester begins, new bus routes will transport students in the business districts to three suburban destinations with “alternative entertainment options,” UB officials said.
Buses will take students to Maple Road, Walden Avenue and Transit Road on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
At the same time, the schedule for the buses that transport students from North Campus in Amherst to Buffalo’s South Campus, where they walk in droves to nearby neighborhood streets, will be reduced from every 10 minutes to every 20 minutes.
“This change in schedule cuts in half the number of buses running between the campuses on weekend evenings, three instead of six buses” every hour, a statement from UB explained.
Transporting students to business districts away from the University Heights neighborhood is expected to reduce friction between students and residents of University Heights. Especially during the first weekends of the fall semester, students flood the streets near South Campus looking for house parties and annoying residents with late-night noise, vandalism, littering, thefts and fights.
Buffalo police have estimated that as many as 2,000 students walk the streets of University Heights on weekend nights. Most take the bus from North Campus.
In September of last year, the average ridership between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. on the Stampede buses was 817 on Thursdays, 1,425 on Fridays and 1,214 on Saturdays, according to UB officials, who count the student trips through swipe cards used when students board the buses. The averages for the same nights in October fell by between 123 and 218 riders.
The buses to business districts in the new suburban locations will run to Maple Road from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Thursday night, down Union Road to Walden Avenue on Friday night and to Transit Road Saturday night.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” said Mickey Vertino, president of the University Heights Collaborative, a residents’ organization. “I like this. It redirects them, gives them places to go, spreads it out. But I’d like to see even a little bit less of the shuttles.”
During the day and on weekday nights, buses will run every 10 minutes between 9 a.m. and 2 a.m.
On Friday and Saturday evenings, the bus pickups will be slowed to one bus every 20 minutes. Buses will continue to run every 60 minutes between 2 and 6 a.m.
The number and locations of stops on Walden, Transit and Maple are still being determined, said Barbara Ricotta, UB associate vice president for student affairs.
The top priority is safety, she said, followed by the central placement of drop-off points.
“What we’re looking for are stops where students can get off and go to a number of different places,” she said. “We’re not going to stop at every business along the way; we’re looking at what are the best two or three stops, for example, on Transit, where it’s safe for our students to go to a variety of options.”
UB planners will try to find stops near businesses that are open late, including movie theaters, bowling alleys and 24-hour restaurants and fitness centers.
When the reduced shuttle service was started last year as a pilot program, UB officials found that the pared schedule “helped to significantly decrease the number of students traveling by bus to parties in the Heights,” Ricotta said.
The shuttles to business districts were also tested over three weekends in April, and Ricotta said several hundred students rode those buses.
The University plans to widely publicize the service to Maple Road, Transit Road and Walden Avenue, and to ask students who ride those buses for feedback on the service. In the beginning, one bus will travel the route from South Campus to the business area, and two will travel from North Campus, Ricotta said.
“The plan is to run it for two or three weeks, then we’re going to re-evaluate it, where the demand is, and make adjustments accordingly,” she said.
This month has seen a flurry of meetings among parties involved in the nagging issue, including residents, leaders of the University Heights Collaborative, and representatives of UB and the Buffalo Police Department. Further meetings to include student residents and landlords are being planned.
“The first few weekends of the semester, new students particularly want to meet other students,” Ricotta said. “Sometimes that’s what takes them to the Heights, and we’re thinking, ‘Let’s take you other places where that can happen.’ It can happen if a group goes to a restaurant for dinner or a late-night snack, it can happen if you go bowling or to a 24-hour fitness area. There are lots of places where that can happen, so we’re trying to create some of those places.”