About thirty students boarded an unmarked, white van that they mistakenly thought to be a Harvard shuttle to the Quad Saturday night. Instead, they found themselves facing a driver demanding $5 per person before allowing them to disembark.
“He was never physically threatening, never rude,” said Lindsay M. Garber ’11, a passenger of the unmarked van. “We tried to remain as civil as possible.”
Garber said they eventually learned that the driver worked for a transportation company unaffiliated with Harvard. “He was just upset that it was this big miscommunication, and it was going to be his loss,” she said.
Passengers of the van said they were expecting the 10:10 p.m. shuttle from the Yard to the Quad.
After seeing the shuttle was significantly late, one student, a resident of Currier House who wished to remain anonymous due to the peculiar nature of the incident, called Shuttle Services. The operator reported that the shuttle was “three to four minutes away.”
About that time later, a shuttle arrived and students began filing in.
According to Abigail Brown ’11, a resident of Quincy House, the first passenger was reported to have asked, “Are you going to the Quad?” and the driver was reported to have responded, “Sure.”
The driver, who was not familiar with the bus routes, was directed to the Quad by one of the students, according to Brown.
“We thought he was a new driver,” she said.
But after arriving at the Quad, the driver asked the passengers to pay him $5 each for his services—though some confused passengers believed the driver was demanding a ransom.
The driver explained that he worked for a private charter company and would be fired if he did not return with the expected payment. After the students haggled with the driver—who was prepared to drive them back to the Yard in accordance with company policy—he finally agreed to let them leave the shuttle in front of the Student Organizational Center at Hilles. The students had given him around $10.
David E. Harris Jr., the general manager of Harvard Transportation Services, said he had not heard of the incident before The Crimson’s inquiry yesterday. He added that all Harvard vehicles have Harvard graphics on them and are operated by full-time employees wearing Harvard uniforms. He also confirmed that all shuttles in the Harvard fleet have digital destination displays.
Brown described the vehicle as having a similar appearance to the evening vans used at Harvard, though it did not bear Harvard markings.
Harvard University Police Department spokesperson Steven G. Catalano said the department was not notified about the incident, though one passenger said a blockmate in Currier reported it to a Currier security guard while the students were still aboard the van.
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