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Lack of Funding Delays SafeRide Plans

By Kevin R. Lang

NEWS EDITOR

Although the Graduate Student Council donated $15,000 last spring toward the purchase of a new “A Safe Ride” van to serve the Inman Square area, additional costs and administrative hurdles have delayed the formation of new routes.

Although the GSC received no formal promise that service would begin this fall, GSC President Dilan A. Seneviratne G said that “We are hoping that it will be up and running as soon as possible, because there are lots of students who commute from that area.”

For graduate students who live in north Cambridge, transportation to or from campus can be a challenge, particularly at night. The area is not served by subway lines, and bus service does not run directly to MIT.

Stephen D. Immerman, director of enterprise services, has been investigating the necessary budget allocations to begin service. In addition the funds required to purchase a new van, estimated at $25,000 for a new vehicle, maintenance, staffing, and operational costs could exceed $100,000 annually.

“If you’re going to spend $100,000 in one area, that means you can’t spend it somewhere else,” Immerman said. “Those are hard decisions.”

Funding options explored by GSC

One possibility to get the new SafeRide route established permanently would be to include it as a new budget item for next year, but this would delay the program’s start until fall of 2002. “That is not acceptable,” Seneviratne said.

However, Immerman said that the budget cycle for next year is already underway, and the administration is “looking at what our responsibilities are and how to think about deploying [SafeRide] for the campus.”

Specifically, the impact of the new graduate dorm at 70 Pacific Street is being evaluated, since it will shift 700 graduate students closer to campus. Immerman said that MIT’s first responsibility was to cover the campus, and 70 Pacific Street will increase demand for what Immerman referred to as an already “overburdened” system.

“Within the next month or so, or less, we should be in a position to know much more clearly what we can do short term,” Immerman said. “I know that the demand is there from those students.”

However, Seneviratne said the Cambridge North route would be necessary, regardless of 70 Pacific Street. Students living in the Inman Square are mostly second-year students who would be living there anyway, Seneviratne said. Inman Square is one of the more affordable areas in Cambridge, and has traditionally been home to many graduate students.

SafeRide purpose questioned

Immerman said that MIT is looking into different options for late-night transportation for graduate students. However, he said that MIT must ask, “Are there other means to do that, and are those practical? There aren’t many of practical alternatives, other than handing out taxi vouchers,” which would be prohibitively expensive.

Immerman also said that MIT has incentive to reduce the number of automobiles on campus due to limited parking.

GSC study shows need for route

Last spring, the GSC conducted a study of SafeRide routes as part of an MIT transportation task force. “We did an analysis of where students live and what kind of transportation is available to them,” Seneviratne said. “We came up with the need for another route, with covers the ‘Cambridge North’ area.” This includes Inman Square, which is home to many graduate students. Following the study’s conclusion, the GSC gave MIT $15,000 toward the purchase of the new van.

Night Owl bus service running

Starting September 7th, “Night Owl” bus service began operation on Fridays and Saturdays until 2:30 a.m. Ten new bus routes run parallel to subway lines, and seven existing routes stop at T stations and other locations around Boston and Cambridge. Popular routes include a Red Line parallel between Alewife and Government Center, and the Route 1 bus along Massachusetts Avenue. “Night Owl” fares are the same as a similar trip taken during the day.

The MBTA will evaluate ridership during the next year, then make a decision regarding continuation of the program. Further information and route maps can be found at <http://www.mbta.com>.

Rima Arnaout contributed to the reporting of this story.