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School bus brings cameras to late-night service

By Julia Grace Brimelow ’14

November 14, 2013

Students headed downtown last weekend were met with a big yellow school bus instead of the usual Birnie Bus at the Sadove Jitney stop. After weeks of disorderly and destructive behavior during the Jitney late-night service, the bus company suggested the switch, citing large numbers of increasingly combative students.

Lisa Magnarelli, associate dean of students for student engagement and leadership, explained the change in bus as a means of accommodating growing numbers of Jitney riders. She pointed to large groups of rowdy students waiting for the bus as a concern. “They rush the bus…the driver thought a larger bus would solve the crowding problem,” she said.

Larger issues with student behavior have plagued late-night service all semester. Unruly students have acted aggressively en route to their downtown destination, and, on two occasions, highly intoxicated students got sick while being ferried up the Hill. This behavior, while problematic, is not unusual. What stand out are the increased incidents of damage, harassment and violence that have perpetuated a low standard of behavior for student riders.

Campus Safety incident reports frequently mention cases of violence starting on the Jitney and continuing on the Hill once the bus has opened its doors. Campus safety has also been called to respond to hazardous behavior, such as in September when students tampered with the exterior mirrors at a Jitney stop and proceeded to open the emergency door while the bus was moving.

Students have gone so far as to harass fellow riders and staff ride-alongs. Jitney Coordinator Alice Henry ’14 detailed one incident in an interview with The Spectator.

“As the bus was coming up the Hill there were passengers standing and banging on the ceilings and windows, so the driver was uncomfortable and asked the ride-along to ask them to stop. The ride-along couldn’t see who made the comment but someone made racial and sexist slurs towards the driver and ride-along and the group continued to bang on the windows and chant, ‘We don’t care.’”

When these incidents compromise the safety of the service, the Jitney is taken off line. On Nov. 2, the Birnie Bus was shut down before midnight when several intoxicated students ripped a rubber seal off of the door, a mechanism needed to keep the door closed while the bus is moving, causing $1000 worth of damage. As a result, downtown service was suspended for the night, angering students and stranding many without a safe ride back up the Hill.

In the past, it has been difficult to trace specific incidents of aggressive behavior and damage to a source. Anonymity protects those who cause damage, spark fights and throw racial slurs from disciplinary action.  But with the implementation of the new yellow school bus as the late-night vehicle, students will now be subject to surveillance by pre-installed cameras. In a bid to create greater accountability among riders, the administration has expressed their intention to scan the footage looking for the students responsible for the negative behavior.

Magnarelli said that the new system would empower her office to pursue students who cause damage to the van. “If there is bad behavior, we’re going to identify who it, is and they will be banned from riding the van,” she said.

Henry cautions that while she has no intention of creating a policed Jitney, the surveillance cameras should be taken seriously. “We don’t want to have a Campus Safety officer on the Jitney all the time and we know that most students are well behaved, but we have the cameras for instances when we need to hold someone accountable for slurs or inappropriate comments made towards the ride-along or behavior that is destructive to the bus”.

Since the new Jitney system has only been in action for one weekend, it is difficult to know if the cameras have had an effect on student behavior. Last weekend, however, no major incidents were reported. Going into the final weekend before Thanksgiving break, students are now aware of the new surveillance system and will have a larger bus to accommodate them. The Office of Student Activities continues to monitor behavior and hopes to see more responsible conduct from the student body.

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