|SG President Greg Pollock steps off the new Tiger East End
Express into Rochester's East End on Saturday night. The new
bus route gives RIT students a chance to experience Rochester's
vibrant night life for free on Saturdays from 9 p.m. - 2 a.m.
At 10:13 p.m. Saturday, January 14, the bus arrived at the intersection of Andrews Memorial Drive and Tyler Drive. “Headed downtown?” asked Bus Operator Frank Falzone, looking over the top of his glasses. One hour prior, the bus had made its maiden voyage, carrying a team of Student Government representatives and school officials to Rochester’s East End. Now, it was empty.
At approximately 11 p.m., on its third trip, the Tiger East End Express experienced a swift increase in riders. Looking to explore downtown nightlife, students packed the bus. Inside, the atmosphere was positively electric. Several students held bottles of alcohol, and as newcomers entered at each stop, the riders broke into applause.
As of last weekend, the Tiger East End Express (TE3) shuttles students from RIT to Rochester’s East End every Saturday from 9 p.m. until 2 a.m. With seven stops on RIT’s campus, students can be picked up a short walk from home. This allows anyone with an RIT student ID to cheaply experience Rochester’s night life, while ensuring a safe ride home. Even so, the route has already been occasionally characterized as a “party bus.”
The TE3 project was initially started by RIT’s Student Government (SG). “There really isn't much in the way to get down to the city of Rochester and participate in the life that goes on down there,” said SG President Greg Pollock in an interview with RochesterHomePage.net. According to Randy Vercauteren, director of Parking and Transportation, SG “wanted to have something that connected the university to entertainment in an area of the city.”
Another main reason for the Tiger East End Express is to encourage responsibility when going to clubs or bars to drink. Before the creation of the TE3, students who wanted to go to the bars located in Rochester’s East End would have had to either find a designated driver or take a cab there and back. As the route’s assigned driver, Falzone said “I think it’s a good idea. I think it gives [the students] some diversity in entertainment, and if they do drink, they’ve got a way to get back to school safely.”
While safe rides home for students is an unquestioned positive aspect, there are concerns that this may encourage students to drink more or behave irresponsibly. Vercauteren said, “My biggest concern was the label ‘drunk bus.’ … I don’t like that label at all.” Instead, he “thought of it more as an entertainment bus, an opportunity for students to come down and enjoy the entertainment district. This is to connect our students to the city, not to connect our students to getting drunk.”
The University of Rochester had a similar system in place with “bar busses” that shuttled students from campus to various bars in Rochester. Last November, U of R officials canceled the route due to student misconduct incidences. According an article in the school’s student newspaper, the Campus Times, “The misconducts that initially jeopardized the bar buses included one incident involving a knife, vomiting on buses, pregaming before events and students cramming onto buses without regard for safety regulations.” In a email from U of R Dean of Students Matthew Burns on the subject of the Bar Bus moratorium to students and faculty, he broke the news of the bus system’s demise by stating that “careful and thorough review of the process by which we have utilized ‘bar buses’ and the problems and incidents associated with this process (and especially student misconduct during this process), I am directing you to discontinue all “‘bar buses’” until further notice, effective immediately.”
When asked about concerns of the TE3 becoming like the University of Rochester’s “bar busses,” Vercauteren admits he initially had some concerns. Before implementing the route, he asked for approval from Senior Vice President of Finance and Administration Dr. Jim Watters and Senior Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Mary-Beth Cooper. They’re both in agreement that we want to connect the students with the city of Rochester, want to connect them with the entertainment district, but it’s not for the purpose of getting drunk. It’s connecting them to what the city of Rochester has to offer.”
According to Falzone, only a severe incident would lead to the system’s cancellation. As RTS is a public service, they are required to offer transportation if it’s needed. Besides a decision by RIT, he says, “If there was severe damage to the bus they might start thinking about it. But our busses are all camera busses; if somebody did something to a bus, [the transportation system management] would probably find out who did it. That person would have a problem.” He stated that the bus had approximately 10 cameras.
Though seemingly popular on the first night, the TE3 is currently only a five-month pilot program. “I think the behavior of the students will be a significant factor in determining whether it stays or not,” says Vercauteren. “We will be monitoring very closely the behavior of the students, how they go to the East End, how they come back from the East End.” He explained that, as the bus is considered an RIT-sanctioned event, the Student Conduct Code applies to behavior, saying, “We want students to enjoy themselves, we don’t want students to represent RIT in a negative light.”
In his interview with RochesterHomePage.net, Pollock said, “We want to prove that this is something that students at RIT want.” In another interview with RIT’s University News, he said that “students will appreciate the free and sustainable way to connect with and experience the downtown Rochester area. We hope they can have fun and build a relationship with the East End.”