NIU’s Late Night Ride service has fewer restrictions than other colleges

By Kyla Gardner

DeKALB | During a September weekend in 1988, NIU’s Late Night Ride Service provided transportation for seven people. The next weekend, it transported four.

Last weekend, from April 29 to May 1, the service provided rides for 1,159 people.

In a September 1988 Northern Star article, then-Transit Board Chairman Dave Emerick said, “Other universities have this type of service, and it has been widely accepted. I can see the service around for a long time, but only if ridership increases.”

Twenty-three years later, service ridership has increased and the program remains successful, said Lt. Curtis Young of University Police.

According to the Star article, the service was initially intended for use by women only to prevent sexual assaults and physical battery. Prevention of crimes against women is the reason many late night shuttle transportation services were started at four-year public universities across Illinois.

Initially, the LNRS at NIU was restricted to weekend hours, bounded geographically and allowed only NIU students, faculty and staff to board.

Since its seven and four-person weekend ridership in 1988, the NIU service has lost all of its initial restrictions on operation; other university transportation systems have not.

The University of Illinois at Chicago, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Southern Illinois University-Carbondale offer late night shuttle services. Illinois State University and Western Illinois University offer a late night bus service. Eastern Illinois University does not offer any specific late night transportation.


The Late Night Ride Service was initially operated through a partnership between the Student Association and UP, according to a November 2002 Northern Star article. In that year, the service was taken over by UP and revamped.

Young said the purpose of the service is safety. He said the service decreases victimization of pedestrians such as robberies or traffic accidents. The service is also meant to curb drinking and driving.

In a Feb. 11 Northern Star article, Sgt. Alan Smith of UP said students often refer to the service as the “drunk bus,” but that is not what the service is about.

“The intent of the service is to provide a safe mode of transportation,” Young said.

Night Safety Transit at SIUC is a van service operated by the Saluki Patrol, a student-run program that assists the University Police, similar to the Huskie Patrol at NIU.

Officer Russell Thomas, all-hazards preparedness resource officer for the SIUC Department of Public Safety, said Night Safety Transit does not transport drunk riders because of liability issues and for safety reasons.

“You don’t want to put other [riders] at risk,” he said. “[Intoxicated people] need probably to call a taxi for that kind of service.”

Young said liability for the LNRS is no greater than for other forms of transportation. He said the service never refuses rides, but if a passenger displays disorderly conduct when the van arrives at the pick-up location, it is up to the discretion of the driver whether to call for assistance from UP.

The service is no questions asked, Young said.

“We don’t care where we’re picking [people] up or where we’re taking them to,” Smith said in the Feb. 11 Northern Star article. “That’s their business. We just want to get them there safely.”

Smith said the drivers, who are security personnel, are trained to respond to different situations.

“It’s not that we just let [riders] on and don’t pay attention to them,” Smith said.

He said a paramedic would be called if a passenger passed out in the van.


Craig Moran, community affairs police officer at UIC, said the university’s late night transportation Red Car Service only takes students from campus buildings to residences or vice versa.

“It’s not a taxi service,” he said. “They won’t take you to a restaurant or bar.”

Off-campus businesses that the Late Night Ride Service has frequented, according to logs, include restaurants like Buffalo Wild Wings and Portillo’s, shopping centers like Target and Schnucks, and other businesses like Market Square Cinemas, Hope Haven, the 3M Distribution Center, Kishwaukee Community Hospital and Paperback Grotto. The LNRS has also taken riders to bars such as Molly’s Eatery & Drinkery and Fatty’s Pub & Grill and to Thirsty Liquors, a liquor store. Walmart is the most frequented business, according to the log.

Jan Kijowski, marketing director of the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District, said the Safe Rides shuttle program at U of I will not take riders to the hospital in emergency situations or to and from bars.

“It’s not a designated driver service; it’s a safe ride,” Kijowski said. “It would just be impossible to keep up with the demand for that.”

In the Feb. 11 article, the Northern Star looked at a LNRS ridership log from November 2010. Between about 12:30 a.m. Nov. 7 to midnight Nov. 11, 253 of 839 rides involved a ride either to or from an off-campus business; in other words 30.2 percent of rides involved transportation to some sort of business. Between the same time frame from April 3 to April 7, that percent stayed almost the same at 29.4 percent, with 305 out of 1,039 rides involving a ride to or from an off-campus business.

Thomas of SIUC said he informs new students during orientation that the Night Safety Transit program does not take students to liquor stores, grocery stores or other businesses.

“We’re not in the transportation business, but we’re in the safety business,” he said.

Young said with the increase in gas prices, he understands how appealing free transportation is, especially for students.

“People have economic hardships; they need transportation to Walmart,” he said. “What other choice do they have?”

The No. 7 bus on the Huskie Bus Line runs to several businesses in DeKalb such as Jewel, White Castle, Walmart, the YMCA, Target, Burger King and Kishwaukee Community Hospital; stops that the LNRS often makes. The No. 7 bus operates Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. and from 9:00 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

Young said the hours of the bus might not be convenient for everyone.

“The Late Night Ride Service is invaluable for people to get the food they need…basic necessities,” he said.

According to the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District website, U of I’s Safe Rides will not go to locations that could be reached on a fixed route.

The LNRS hours are 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. seven days a week. Fifty-seven and a half hours per week of the LNRS overlap with the number 7 bus route schedule.

Young said he realizes that some riders may just use the service to get somewhere and not because of safety concerns, but that doesn’t matter.

“Even though [their] intent is totally different we’re concerned about getting them there safely,” he said.


When it first started, the LNRS was restricted by geographic boundaries: a west boundary at Stadium Drive, east boundary on East Access Road, south boundary at Illinois Route 88 and a north boundary at Bethany Road, according to a March 1988 Northern Star article. Some apartment buildings outside of that area were also included.

Today, those boundaries are gone. The Service mostly operates in the DeKalb and Sycamore area, but will take riders to the Metra station in Elburn, Young said. The LNRS made 22 trips either to or from the station between Jan. 1, 2010 and May 2, 2011.

The Red Car Service at UIC, Moran said, restricts boundaries geographically because students who attend the university might live somewhere far from campus in the city. He said, as an example, Oak Park would be too far from campus to drive a student. Oak Park is about 8 miles from the UIC campus in the south loop.

The Metra station in Elburn is about 19 miles from NIU.

The LNRS log shows that a van took a rider to Elburn on April 8 at 7:37 p.m. The ride lasted about 42 minutes, one-way.

Young said the Late Night Ride Service will take riders to Elburn if it is not a burden on the service’s ability to provide rides in DeKalb and Sycamore.

“The more the volume [of ride requests], the less our expansion,” Young said.

Smith said he is concerned that riders would be stranded at the Elburn train station because the weekend Huskie Bus Line route that runs there has limited hours.

“If we can [pick people up], we will,” he said.

Thomas of SIUC said Night Safety Transit operates in about a one mile radius of the university’s campus.

U of I’s Safe Rides, which offers “curb-to-curb” service, but also operates sometimes on a fixed route, is bound geographically, Kijowski said.


In 1988, when the Late Night Ride Service began, it only ran Thursday through Saturday from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. Today, the service operates from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m., seven days a week, according to a Northern Star article.

The LNRS began operating from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., seven days a week when UP took it over in 2002, according to a November 2002 Northern Star article.

On Oct. 26, 2010, after the disappearance of student Antinette “Toni” Keller, the Service extended its hours to 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. to accommodate students’ safety concerns.

Other security measures enacted at that time, such as restricted residence hall access, were removed at the beginning of this semester. The extended Late Night Ride hours remain.

Starting May 18, the hours will return to 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., Young said.

“The decision was made because requests for these hours have become less,” Young said. “As time has gone on…people seem to be in the mind-set that it’s a safe environment.”

Smith said the NIU campus has been and continues to be safe.

Young said 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. are the prime hours between which UP aims to decrease victimization.

Late night transportation services at U of I, UIC and ISU operate seven days a week as well, but none operate as many hours as the Late Night Ride Service does now.

With extended hours, LNRS runs 112 hours per week. With normal hours, it operates 56 hours per week. Out of the six Illinois universities that offer late night transportation, NIU ties for second for most operating hours with UIC’s Red Car Service at 56 per week when it has its normal hours. Depending on daylight savings time, U of I’s Safe Rides operates between 80.5 to 94.5 hours per week, the most of any service. SIUC, ISU and WIU operate fewer hours.

Young said the LNRS operates on normal hours during times when school is not in session because some students stay on campus and DeKalb residents still use the service.

U of I, SIUC, and ISU cease late night transportation service during school breaks.

Thomas from SIUC said Night Safety Transit does not provide rides during breaks because there are usually no students on campus.

Kathy Kajari, commander of administration at UIC, said the Red Car Service operates during breaks because UIC’s many medical centers stay open during that time.


When the LNRS first started in 1988, it was restricted to students who had to show an NIU ID. It was expanded to include NIU faculty and staff in the same year, according to a Northern Star article. Non-students were allowed to ride if they signed waivers for insurance purposes.

Today, the Late Night Ride Service offers rides to anyone, no questions asked and no ID necessary.

Young said DeKalb residents are allowed to use the LNRS so that students do not have to show any ID to board.

“Any student that may be reluctant to be identified, for whatever reason, they would be reluctant to use the service and that would defeat the purpose of the Late Night Ride,” he said.

Smith said DeK0alb is a small, tight-knit community. He sees DeKalb residents as a part of the NIU community.

At SIUC and UIC, only students and university employees are allowed to ride.

At U of I, SIUC and UIC, students must show a university ID to ride for free. At U of I and ISU, community members can ride but must pay a fare of $1.

Thomas of SIUC’s Night Safety Transit said the service is restricted to students because it is funded through the student activity fee.

“[Students] pay for it,” he said. “It’s not something done through the community.”

Funding for the Late Night Ride Service comes from the income fund of NIU, said Eddie Williams, executive vice president for Business and Finance and chief of operations, in an email interview. That fund is a combination of tuition and generated income.

Kajari of UIC said the Red Car Service does not allow non-student riders because of the university’s location.

“It’s just so we don’t turn into a taxi service for everyone in the city of Chicago,” she said. “We’re surrounded by a densely populated urban city.”


Mary Jo Kocar, assistant director and business manager of operations at ISU, said in an email interview that the NiteRide and Late NiteRide bus routes offered on campus and between campus and downtown Bloomington operate to reduce the university’s carbon footprint.

“This is a challenge in smaller communities such as ours, but, fortunately, our student population consists of a large segment of urbanized students who are already accepting of mass transit,” she said.

Mileage of the LNRS vans totaled 89,272 miles from Jan. 1 to April 30, a 323 percent increase from 27,609 miles during the same time last year, Williams said.

Kocar said ISU’s transportation system tries to cut down on people driving alone as a sustainable intitiative.

Young said the number of riders at one time in a LNRS van varies depending on whether it is peak or off-peak hours for the service. The busiest times are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from midnight to 3 a.m. The service has four vans with seven seats and one van with 11 seats. Young said the van may be full or only carrying two riders, depending on volume of calls.

WIU operates a Late Nite Route, an extension of the Go West Transit system. The service operates Thursdays from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. and Friday and Saturday from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m., said Jude Kiah, director of Go West Transit.

Kiah said the Late Nite Route was implemented in 1999 because of student requests. The routes connect the campus to a downtown area with bars.

WIU would not consider a door-to-door shuttle service, he said.

“It’s very, very expensive and it’s not efficient,” Kiah said. “For the same amount of money that I can carry 130,000, that system can only carry…let’s be generous and say 15,000…I can carry 10 for every one that it carries.”

The budget for the Late Night Routes of WIU’s bus system have an annual operating budget of just under $60,000, Kiah said.

The operating budget for the NIU Late Night Ride Service for the 2011 fiscal year is $320,728, Williams said. Between Jan. 1 and April 30, the vehicle expenses and fuel cost for the five-van fleet were $41,388, a 293 percent increase from the cost of $14,260 during the same period in 2010.

“From a strictly efficiency standpoint, it’s pretty obvious which one is more efficient, but maybe efficiency isn’t the point,” Kiah said.

Smith said safety is the point of the LNRS.

“The No. 1 concern is the safety of our students and our passengers and that’s why we operate the Late Night Ride,” he said.

Kiah said WIU’s preference for a late night bus system may not apply at other universities.

“We would never [have a shuttle] because that doesn’t make sense here…but there are other places where it may make sense,” he said. “Our model is not necessarily the best model. It’s just best for us.”

Smith said the LNRS works for NIU because it strengthens the relationship between UP, DeKalb and NIU.

“Our university cares about [students], other people within the community,” Smith said.

Smith said the LNRS is both a result of that strong relationship and way to continue building it.

“I can’t speak for other communities but [LNRS] works here, for us,” he said.