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How La Crosse MTU helps to keep a safe social scene through Safe Ride

23 May 2024 10:24 AM | WIPTA Admin (Administrator)

Public transportation for University of Wisconsin-La Crosse students, especially first-year students without access to a car, opens the opportunity to explore their new home off-campus. Special to La Crosse Municipal Transit (MTU) is the U-Pass and Safe Ride program.  

Established in 2000, the U-Pass program through MTU allows all Western Technical College, Viterbo University and UWL students free and unlimited access to city buses with a valid student ID. Under that program, MTU developed Safe Ride, or what is commonly referred to as “The Drunk Bus” by UWL students.  

The week before the start of the fall semester Safe Ride begins, operating from 10 p.m. – 3 a.m. Thursday through Saturday. The two buses circulate the route between WTC, Viterbo and UWL resulting in an approximate 15-minute wait time for passengers.  

On Friday and Saturday nights, a third bus is added. “We are trying to eliminate wait times,” said Deputy Director of Transit James Krueger (he/him). “When we add a third bus it’s about every seven minutes [of wait time].” 

Similar to the U-Pass program, riding the Safe Ride buses required no fee. However, unlike the U-Pass, passengers are not obligated to show a form of student ID.  

“This is handy if you have friends that are coming to town that are wanting to go out to eat or downtown,” said Krueger. “You can ride the bus for the Safe Ride program without that extra person having to pay a fare or anything.” 

The Safe Ride program was created to serve primarily students from the La Crosse area colleges and universities and has seen high levels of usage since its establishment in 2000. According to Krueger, 33,318 rides were completed in the calendar year of 2023 on Safe Ride buses and 31,091 on U-Pass routes. These figures reflect the program’s resurgence following the pandemic.  

Before the pandemic, Safe Ride and U-Pass saw numbers in the hundreds of thousands. “It’s rebounding,” said Krueger. “We are trying to continue to get it to grow and foster a good relationship with the university.” 

UWL advertises the Safe Ride program as a safe way to travel between downtown and campus, however, students recognize the program with a different title: “The Drunk Bus”.  

A second-year student who wished to remain anonymous said, “I am not drunk on my way down [downtown], but when I take it home after bar-close that is where the name comes from.” 

This name is not embraced by La Crosse MTU. “Whenever we hear someone say ‘The Drunk Bus,’ we kind of take that and say ‘no, no, it’s not The Drunk Bus, it’s a safe ride home’,” said Krueger.  

MTU emphasizes the safe mode of transportation the Safe Ride program provides. Third-year Student Isabella McCarron (she/her) understands their goal. “I think if we didn’t have it, it would increase drunk driving significantly,” she said.  

However, the name given to the Safe Ride program by students still resides with McCarron. “The only time I have used it was when I’ve been drunk,” she said. “I use it after bars close because there aren’t many Ubers available.” 

In 2012 UWL was ranked number one in the nation for alcohol arrests. In this same year, Safe Ride saw its highest year with 95,711 trips. The collaboration between UWL and La Crosse MTU works to ensure the safety of students amid a strong drinking culture.  

Krueger reiterated the multiple ways students can use their free bus pass. “It does offer an ease for students to get to and from work, to get to and from those places of entertainment,” he said. “Whether it’s movies or dining or anything like that, it’s a good opportunity for students.” 

The anonymous second-year student explained they are grateful for the presence of the Safe Ride program and subsequent free bus pass. “It is a great resource for students who don’t have cars,” they said. “Freshmen should still have the opportunity to go to Target.”  

The Safe Ride program will wrap up for this academic year on Saturday, May 11 and resume the Saturday before classes begin in the fall semester.

McCarron stated, “I don’t have to worry about finding a ride home and I know I am safe on the bus.” 

Read the full article here.

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