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Circle K frustrated with transportation rules

Mary Kate Malone | Tuesday, September 20, 2005

They say the third time’s the charm.

But not for Jake Teitgen and Circle K’s 10 volunteers who have tried three times to play bingo at a local nursing home using a Transpo bus to get there.

Last Monday, the group of Circle K members waited 45 minutes at a downtown Transpo stop in order to catch a bus to the nursing home. When it finally arrived, they were told the bus system had consolidated and it would still be a long drive to play bingo.

“By the time we would have gotten to the nursing home, it would have been 20 minutes before we were supposed to be back on campus,” said Teitgen, who is treasurer of Circle K. “So we just got back on the bus and went back to Notre Dame. We spent an hour and a half out and about without having done any service.”

That was strike one. They tried two more times and still never made it to the nursing home.

Circle K and other service organizations on campus have been trying to cope with a new $55 fee attached to Center for Social Concerns (CSC) vans. For years, the vans have been free to any student doing service off campus. This year, it costs $55 a day for one van.

“It was costing the CSC $80,000 to rent vehicles from Notre Dame for the students to use,” CSC assistant director Jim Paladino said. “The cost had risen enough over the past few years, and the vans still weren’t meeting the demand.”

CSC transportation director Joanna Basile estimated the cost of renting the vans put the CSC $40,000 over budget.

“We were averaging about 600 van rentals a month,” Basile said. “Students were using them probably 30 to 40 times a week. It was getting insanely high.”

This year, the CSC has encouraged students to use Transpo buses to get to and from service events. But that’s easier said than done, Circle K president emeritus Jenni Heissel said.

“As a university, we have so much money to spend,” Heissel said. “We can’t fork out the small amount it’s going to cost to make service available for all the students?”

What’s worse, Heissel said, is that Circle K wasn’t told about the new van policy until mid-summer – months after service projects had been planned and the budget approved.

“We had to change the service project times to fit in with the bus schedule,” Heissel said. “We had a list of all the service projects done in May. By August, we had time times set up, but they didn’t tell us about the fee until a week and a half before school started.”

Paladino said even the CSC did not get the final word on the Transpo agreement until late in the summer.

“We worked with Transpo through the previous student government,” Paladino said. “At the beginning of the summer it looked like it would happen. Then negotiations [with Transpo] stalled, and we didn’t hear until three weeks before school started that it was a go.”

Notre Dame’s Circle K chapter is the largest Circle K organization in the world, but Heissel and Teitgen feared their numbers might start shrinking because of the inconvenience associated with the Transpo schedules.

“People do Circle K because of its convenience,” Heissel said. “If we don’t have that, obviously our numbers are going to shrink. It’s taking longer to get to the destination than to actually do the service work. It’s ridiculous that [we] spend more time traveling than doing service.”

Basile said the bus route will take time to get used to.

“I’m sure there are going to be setbacks,” Basile said. “There are going to be issues where students don’t get there, get lost or are on the bus longer than expected.”

Heissel was not optimistic about the new plan to use Transpo instead of CSC vans.

“I think this is a major problem,” Heissel said. “With the way the bus system is set up, there is automatically a 25-minute wait built in. Service is a huge part of people’s lives here and without that ability to get to service projects quickly, I don’t know what we’re going to do.”