Keep the Buses Running

We are glad that early-morning shuttles will continue running through next semester

Getting home at night has not always been so easy. As recently as December 2003, nighttime shuttle bus service ended as early as 12:30 a.m. on weekdays—clearly too early considering Lamont Library is open until 12:45 a.m. and students routinely do homework together well past then. After administrators made the overdue decision last spring to extend shuttles into the early morning, low late-night ridership recently led University Hall to consider scaling back service to 3 a.m. or 2 a.m. But faced with a volley of student e-mails imploring them to keep the shuttles running, Assistant Dean of the College Paul J. McLoughlin and Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71 last week wisely decided, in spite of the high cost, to maintain weekday late night shuttle service for the rest of the school year.

At first glance, Gross and McLoughlin seemed to have a reasonable justification for, at the very least, scaling back the weekday shuttles. Unlike the late-night weekend shuttles, whose ridership remains high well into the early morning, shuttles on Sunday through Thursday nights have been running nearly empty. According to McLoughlin, an average of one or two riders per day rode a weekday shuttle after 3 a.m. this semester, and the post-3 a.m. service was spared only because shuffling the drivers’ schedules would not have saved a substantial amount of money.

Indeed, the cost of the shuttles (in light of the shuttle’s low ridership) appears to be the administration’s primary factor in making decisions about the duration of nighttime shuttle service; the cost of running shuttles between 12:30 a.m. and 4:00 a.m. is about $35,000 per semester, according to McLoughlin. But student safety should be a far more important concern. Students who are schlepping from the River Houses to the Quad at 3:15 a.m. do not take the shuttle merely because of convenience; there are serious questions about the safety of walking alone on Garden Street at that hour.

So long as the service is utilized by a few students, it should not be cut. Yes, the administration must choose some ridership threshold beyond which it is unreasonable to run shuttles and instead encourage students to call the Harvard University Police Department (HUPD) for a ride. But we have, in the past, noted several objections to leaving students to be driven home in squad cars, and so we believe that a mere one rider per hour justifies the cost of continued shuttle service. Futhermore, the funds for the extended hours come from Gross’s discretionary fund, so the continuation of the late-night shuttles do not come at the expense of any other crucial student service.

Still, the late-night shuttle’s reprieve is, as of now, only temporary, and McLoughlin says that University Hall will reconsider the issue this summer when it has a full year of ridership data to examine. While there is reason for optimism that late-night ridership will be shown to have increased after the spring—a warm fall likely led to decreased use of the shuttles—University Hall should permanently run the shuttle service on its current schedule, regardless of any spring semester changes in usage. It is hardly worth risking the nighttime safety of a handful of students in order to recapture a few thousand dollars used to run shuttles for an extra hour.