For most students here at Marist College, the nightlife scene is centered around five key bars. For freshmen, it is easy to walk over to Donnelly and hop in one of the many cabs that are lined up and head to the watering hole of your choice. But for upperclassmen who are off campus or live on the other side of Route 9, there is another option: the Safe Ride shuttle, ferrying students from their residences to Mahoney’s, a popular weekend hangout for students throughout Poughkeepsie.
The one snag with the Safe Ride shuttles is that they are not permitted on campus – that’s right, students only have access to this option if they get picked up at a location that is not within Marist property. One might wonder why a seemingly safer, more convenient option is not allowable for on-campus residents, but John Gildard, Director of Safety and Security here at Marist, explained why the college has enacted this policy.
“The biggest thing for us at Marist is the safety of our students,” he said. “The individual cab drivers are fairly regulated. They require insurance, New York State inspections, taxi licenses, and background checks. The problem with the shuttles is that we don’t know who is driving or who is regulating them – God forbid the driver has no background check, they could be anyone.”
Continuing on the insurance aspect of the problem, Gildard explained that if the shuttle were to crash, this would cause a major issue for the students involved as well as the college. “What if there was an accident and people were hurt? Who is responsible and how is that going to be resolved? Marist has developed a relationship with the cabs and that’s why we allow them on campus – though we will prohibit drivers from picking students up on campus if they don’t follow the rules.”
Gildard alluded that another issue with the shuttles is that even though they are employed by 21-and-over bars, they do not check identification and thus facilitate the possibility of allowing underage students access to the bar. Certainly, the individual cab drivers are transporting underage students as well, but he explained that the problem is they are not being hired by the bars to do so.
Marist is allowed to keep the shuttles off the property because Marist is a private institution. Some may wonder why they see the shuttle picking up students on West Cedar St. outside the Upper or Lower West dorms – that’s because Marist does not own the street, so this is as close as the shuttles can get to campus without being on it.
The situation is the same at other colleges as well. A USA Today article outlined why the University of Rochester banned bar shuttles back in 2012. On the other hand, institutions such as Nazareth College and SUNY Geneseo actually do allow bar shuttles to pick up and drop off students on campus. Opinions are definitely split concerning the pros and cons of shuttling students to and from bars.
Still, Mahoney’s has been operating the shuttle since 2010 and Bill, who works at the establishment, provided a much different outlook on them. “We have a great safety record and do in fact maintain our equipment regularly,” he said. “One of our drivers is actually a retired police officer, and another one is the recently-appointed assistant fire chief in Hyde Park.” He also revealed to me that neighboring institutions including Vassar and the Culinary Institute allow the service on campus – they actually pick students up right in front of the security office at Vassar.
“The Safe Ride shuttle is there to provide a service when cabs are unavailable. On some nights when the cabs are busy, it’s encouraging to know that the shuttle is there to take students home,” said Bill, reiterating the fact that the shuttles aim to reduce drunk driving, not just for the students but for adult customers as well. “The shuttle is there for whatever customer wants to use it.” In addition, the shuttle does not allow open containers on board.
Bill also stated that the Safe Ride shuttle caters to a variety of customers. “The shuttle is available Wednesday through Sunday. On weekends we take customers back and forth from the Walkway Over the Hudson bridge and on Thursdays we work an adult kickball league. It’s not just students we work with.”
It seems as though the individual cab drivers and the Safe Ride shuttles have a symbiotic relationship, too. “We don’t operate the shuttle to compete with the cabs. It’s merely an extra service that we provide to customers,” explained Bill. Jimmy, owner and operator of Petra Taxi, added, “I would encourage you to use the shuttles, especially on busy nights like Friday or Saturday. I don’t have a problem with them.”
With Marist students, opinions vary. Brian, a Marist senior, stated that although the shuttle is free and can take more people than the average cab, sometimes it is not the preferable option. “We usually don’t go out with a large group,” he said. “Sometimes it’s not worth the wait and I feel like it’s just easier to call your go-to guy and get a ride from him.”
Tom, a junior here at Marist, believes otherwise. “I’ve taken the shuttle a bunch of times and it’s really convenient,” he explained. “All my experiences have been positive when using the shuttle.”
While the Safe Ride shuttles seem like an innocuous idea, there are always two sides to the story. Though it is a free service that aims to curb drunk driving and make sure students aren’t walking home from the bars, Mr. Gildard outlined the dangerous possibilities that are all too real in this day and age, and one can understand why Marist has the policies that it does. At the same time, it is definitely a convenient option, and it seems that students will continue to use it based on the feedback I received. Perhaps Marist will allow the shuttles on the campus in the future, but for now it is up to you to decide your means of transportation to and from the bar. At the end of the day, the message is the same – don’t drink and drive.