Few using campus shuttles

Free shuttle service run by SMU and Dal serves tiny minority of students

Students at the Dal SUB get a ride from Tiger Patrol. Josh Brown photo.

Kate Leblanc, a fourth-year English student at Dalhousie, says she hasn't used the Tiger Patrol vans, but she would if they offered a service she thinks would benefit students and help keep them safe.

"I would love to use the van if it took me and brought me home from the bars," she said.

Jessica Faulkner, a first-year arts student at SMU has yet to use the Husky Patrol vans.

"I'm not really sure how it works and I have never really been in a situation when I felt that I needed to use it," she said.

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Husky Patrol van waits in SMU parking lot. Andrew Kudel photo.

More than a decade after they were set up, the campus shuttle vans that run in the evening from the Saint Mary's and Dalhousie campuses are operating at about half capacity and many students at the Dal SUB and SMU Tower indicated that they had heard of the service but were unaware exactly how it operated.

Saint Mary's Husky Patrol and Dalhousie's Tiger Patrol are similar, with both universities running two shuttle vans for about six hours each evening. Data from SMU indicate the service costs roughly $90,000 per year. Dal would not release how much the service costs the university.

The two services operate in a slightly different manner. SMU's runs door-to-door on request, while Dal's runs on a loop, every half hour. The Tiger Patrol covers a route that is mostly covered by transit services. Both services are free for students or staff who have a valid university id.

Graeme Mackenzie, operations manager for SMU student's association services,
reports the service delivers 45 to 50 rides per day when the vans are operating. About 80 per cent of the SMU Husky Shuttle van clientele are repeat users.

SMU, with 7,281 students, constitutes a significantly lower student population compared to Dal's 15,970, yet transports more students per hour and runs for fewer hours each week.

Eric Oehy, Tiger Patrol co-ordinator, says for the month of September 2009 the two Dalhousie Tiger Patrol vans combined for an average of roughly 30 rides per evening. This works out to about five people being given rides for every hour that the service operates. With each van having a five-passenger capacity, the van is typically only half full.

A small percentage of the student population uses the service but every student on campus pays for the service through their tuition.

The Dalhousie and SMU shuttle services are funded through their respective student unions and the university, with some of the costs being offset by sponsors.

MacKenzie says Husky Patrol operates at a loss. He says the purpose of the service is to provide students with a safe way to get home and its purpose isn't to make a profit.

The Husky Patrol service at SMU began its service around 1996 in response to a sexual assault incident in the South End of Halifax.

"If we can prevent another incident from happening we believe it is a worthwhile service for the university," said Mackenzie.

"We offer a door-to-door service. We don't go to bars. We are here to offer people who feel the need for a safe ride home that opportunity," he said.

Laura Slauenwhite, a student from SMU who has used the shuttle, says that running the vans is a worthwhile service offered by the university.

"It's great if you don't want to catch the bus, if you're stressed and just want to get home and if the weather is bad it's really nice to have the option," she said.

Eric Oehy, Tiger Patrol co-ordinator says the safety of students is most important.

He says "students should have the option of being able to study on campus and to get a safe ride home later in the evening."

In an effort to increase the number of students who use the service, some changes are being implemented.

"This past year we have changed the route to make it more efficient and we are also increasing advertising to make students more aware of what we do," said Oehy.

In a 2008 study, the Atlantic Institute of Criminology released a report to the mayor of Halifax that looked into violence and perception of safety in the Halifax Regional Municipality.

According to the report, the mode of transportation that students are most likely to use after going out in the evening was to walk home (32 per cent of the time), take the bus (21 per cent of the time) and take the Tiger Patrol or Husky Patrol Van (less than one per cent of the time).

The report surveyed 1,542 students who attend post-secondary classes in the Halifax Regional Municipality with about 93 per cent of the students surveyed attending Dalhousie or Saint Mary's.


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