Huskie Pups make spring return


Victor E. Huskie rides a Huskie Pup at the Communiversity Block Party on April 13 outside Huskie Stadium.

By Augustin Zehnder

Correction: This article said the golf cart-sized Huskie Pups bought by the Alumni Association are larger than the old Huskie Pups. They are actually smaller than the older Huskie Pups.

The Huskie Pups are scheduled to return today with an expanded route and two new vehicles.

The Huskie Pups, a fleet of electric passenger vehicles, were introduced in fall 2014 as part of NIU President Doug Baker’s Master Plan Thesis. Intended to help make NIU into a 10-minute campus, the four Pups were temporarily retired in November due to issues with operating them in cold weather.

In contrast to the fall route, which went between the Holmes Student Center and Recreation Center, the relaunched Pups system will have two routes: one route will serve the residence halls while another will go from the Rec to Founders Memorial Library with stops at points along the way.

The Rec will serve as a transfer point between the two routes and students will be able to flag down Pups at points other than officially designated stops.

Brett Williams, Student Association director of Mass Transit, said the changes reflect concerns students have voiced in focus groups held throughout the semester.

“We feel that this is the route that serves the students best,” Williams said.

Along with mechanical problems the Pups experienced while operating in cold weather, a major issue last semester was lack of student awareness, Williams said. The Huskie Pups were not adequately publicized; as a result they had a ridership much lower than predicted, he said. Some students in focus groups said they had been unaware the Huskie Pups were an open service, as opposed to a restricted line designed for students with disabilities, Williams said.

Ron Carpenter, junior pre-physical therapy major, said he has never ridden a Pup though he sees how the Huskie Pups could be useful.

NIU spokesman Brad Hoey said NIU is working to address the issues that led to the Huskie Pups being retired. Some of the mechanical problems, which stem from the limitations of battery technology, have been resolved, Hoey said; his division is looking for further solutions which will enable the Huskie Pups to operate further into the fall semester.

The vehicles “don’t work particularly well, as anything does, in the extreme cold,” Hoey said. “But, we do believe in the spring they’re going to work well. We’re going to address [mechanical] issues in the fall, try to get them to run as deep into the fall semester as we can.”

A problem that contributed to the lack of awareness last semester was that the service started with too few vehicles, Hoey said.

“The first few Pups arrived and were deployed in early October, and the entire fleet didn’t come online until after that,” Hoey said. “I think that now what we have is a full complement of pups that are ready to go. That will have a big advantage because they’ll all be useful and ready to be used and they’ll all be running at the same time.”

To ensure there are always enough Pups to meet student needs, two new, larger vehicles have been added to the fleet. Hoey said they are like “large golf carts” and they were donated by the Alumni Association. The new Pups won’t be operating today, but they will join the Pups later this week.

“We actually have a total here for the spring semester of six vehicles that will be involved in transporting students, faculty and staff to different locations on campus,” Hoey said.