Not all happy with Safe Line


Huskie Safe Line

By Jackie Nevarez

The Huskie Safe Line has taken the reins of late-night transportation from Late Night Ride, but not everyone is on board with the change.

Late Night Ride, a transportation service provided by the NIU Police Department for more than 20 years, ran 10 p.m.-6 a.m. daily. Riders could request to be picked up or reserve a pick-up time by phone call with no questions asked.

Since Aug. 1, the NIU Police Department has used the Huskie Safe Line, a shuttle ride service that runs 11 p.m.-5:30 a.m., after the Huskie Bus Line stops running. Riders must stand by the closest Huskie Safe Line stop. With 35 stops total, there is an estimated wait time of 15 minutes on the North Route with 24 stops and an estimated wait time of 20 minutes on the South Route with 11 stops.

Students, faculty and staff, as well as DeKalb community members with disabilities, are welcome to use the Huskie Safe Line by presenting an NIU OneCard or Illinois Person with a Disability Identification Card. Riders are allowed one guest.

Dominique Lanking, senior corporate communication major, and others have circulated a petition, “Save Late Night,” on social media.

The petition is on a petition generator website called Petition Buzz. In order to sign the petition, only a name is required to be entered. Names of students, along with some fictitious names and Internet memes, made up 919 signatures on Lanking’s petition as of Tuesday evening.

Lanking said she created the online petition as a voice as “a student … of NIU’s community and a woman” as well as to draw attention to safety, which she said was her biggest issue with the Huskie Safe Line.

As a front desk worker for the New Residence Hall, Lanking said she used Late Night Ride to go to work during her late shifts, but she no longer feels safe waiting for the Huskie Safe Line at a stop located farther than when she was dropped off at her door.

“A lot of people think [the Huskie Safe Line is] efficient, which is fine, but safety first [before] efficiency,” Lanking said. “I felt safe when I was in [Late Night Ride].”

After contacting NIU Police Chief Phillips through email, Lanking met with him and has scheduled future meetings to discuss further concerns about the Huskie Safe Line. Phillips said he has not had a chance to discuss the “merits or validity” of the petition with Lanking, as there is no “quality control check” as to who is signing it.

During his first year at NIU, Phillips said he assessed the university’s processes and how they could be improved. One of the first issues brought to Phillips’ attention were problems with Late Night Ride.

Phillips said Late Night Ride callers said they were often disconnected or on hold for 30 minutes on the phone to take a request, with a one- to three-hour wait for the ride with callers leaving before a ride would arrive. In 2012, Phillips said the Late Night Ride operators received 38,839 calls, nearly matching the population of DeKalb at 43,842.

“Overwhelmingly, most of the rides were in the summer when no students were around,” Phillips said. “So that gave me kind of an indicator that it wasn’t being used for what it was intended to do.”

Phillips said he found callers who were not necessarily students, faculty or staff receiving rides to Elburn Station and Walmart, both outside the boundaries for Late Night Ride.

Phillips said the Huskie Safe Line was not only an effort made by police, as the process included members of the community, feedback from universities with similar systems and student leadership.

The Police Department would assign staff members to answer phones for Late Night Ride requests on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Phillips said the removal of these positions allowed him to “[free] up [the NIU Police] dispatch center to take more critical calls.”

Phillips said the department will have benchmarks after this semester, academic year and year for the costs and results of operating the Huskie Safe Line. In 2012, Late Night Ride cost $306,000 to operate, covering fuel, maintenance, parking and more.

“Even if the costs end up being the same, which I doubt it, I really believe it’s going to go down,” Phillips said. “The ride system, the intent, is to provide a safe transportation system for the students where they don’t have to wait.”

Certain accommodations on a case-by-case basis can be made, Phillips said.

Last semester, as Student Association senator and chairman of the University Service Committee, Alex Martin, sophomore political science major and director of Academic Affairs, said he decided to fix the problems associated with Late Night Ride by contacting Phillips.

“One thing that … we were supposed to do in our committee was to … kinda go around campus … come up with ideas on like how we can … simply better the services of the university,” Martin said. “I’ve always heard complaints about the Late Night Ride System.”

In March, surveys to evaluate Late Night Ride’s performance were distributed online, via email and by hand to students by SA Senate, which received more than 500 responses. The question “Do you think it would be more effective to have Late Night Ride run certain routes in specific areas within the DeKalb/Sycamore area?” received a majority of “yes” responses with 60.4 percent, or 255 votes, with “no” making up 35.3 percent of the responses, or 149 votes, according to an April 7 Northern Star article.

Phillips and Martin met once a week for about two months in the spring to discuss changes to Late Night Ride. Martin, who coined the name for the new system, said he and Phillips wanted a name change to remove the stigma of a “drunk bus” the Late Night Ride held.

“What this service is … it’s supposed to take you from point A to point B safely … in a 100 percent complete, safe manner,” Martin said.

Brett Williams, SA director of Mass Transit, is the SA’s representative for campus transportation matters. Students with comments or complaints can speak with Williams, Martin said.

The Huskie Safe Line is “just started up right now. Give it a chance, at least give it a semester … see what happens,” Martin said.