ND and SMC student governments cancel South Bend Transpo Midnight Express
Maeve Filbin | Tuesday, August 27, 2019
Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 4:46 p.m.
The South Bend Transpo’s Midnight Express will no longer run within the tri-campus community, as this summer, the student governments of Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame moved to cancel the service indefinitely due to an increase in costs.
Aaron Benavides, who serves as the press secretary for Notre Dame’s student government, said both administrations were involved in the decision to stop the Midnight Express. Transpo alerted Notre Dame Student Government of a 50% increase in operation costs on June 18, communicating through Student Affairs.
“After being notified that South Bend Transpo was going to increase costs of the Midnight Express service by 50%, an increase of nearly $30,000, the student governments of Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame re-evaluated the program,” Benavides said in an email. “Due to declining usage, both administrations collectively determined it was most effective to cancel the service, and immediately began working on a solution for an alternate service.”
This year, Monday through Friday, the final South Bend Transpo bus will leave the Grotto at 9:13 p.m. before completing that route at 9:30 p.m. by dropping off passengers at Saint Mary’s Regina Hall. With the cancellation in effect, no Transpo buses will run past 9:30 p.m. on Fridays, and no Saturday services will be offered at all.
The Saint Mary’s Escort Van Service (Blinkie) will continue to operate Monday through Thursday from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m., with hours being extended until 4 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. However, Blinkie will only make pickups at the Grotto once per hour, from the hours of 10:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Thursday, with pickup times extending to 4 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.
The Midnight Express was a safety initiative established in a partnership between Student Affairs, South Bend Transpo and Notre Dame Student Government in 2009, Benavides said. It provided Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students free transportation to and from both campuses and into downtown South Bend on Friday and Saturday nights between 9:00 p.m. and 3:30 a.m.
After learning of the price hike, Notre Dame Student Government met with advisor Karen Kennedy on June 25 to discuss the program and its funding, and alerted members of the student senate of the cost increase.
“In the meeting with our advisor, we discussed utilization of the program, and noted that (based on recorded use), the program was utilized more frequently by SMC students than by ND students,” Benavides said. “Thus, we decided that though this was an ND-run program, it would be irresponsible and uncourteous to not include SMC student leadership in our discussions.”
On July 2, Notre Dame Student Government reached out to the Saint Mary’s Student Government Association to explain the situation and ask for feedback, Benavides said.
“At this time, we explained that we were considering eliminating the program, but would not do so without consulting them first,” he said. “We provided some background to them that usage of the program had been dramatically decreasing in recent years (approximately 25% over the last 3 years), presumably due to the increased use of ride sharing apps like Uber and Lyft.”
Vice President for student affairs at Saint Mary’s Karen Johnson declined to comment prior to the publishing of The Observer article Sunday night. However, in an email sent to the student body Tuesday, Johnson said Saint Mary’s student government did not have “a role [in] funding the Midnight Express.”
“Rather, the Saint Mary’s SGA was notified that the Notre Dame SGA was considering cancelling the Midnight Express due to escalating costs,” she said in the email. “The Saint Mary’s SGA does not have a similar budget to Notre Dame and could not afford to take over the funding.”
Benavides said Saint Mary’s Student Government responded July 7, saying they believed the best option would be to eliminate the program and move forward with a replacement service. Both groups then notified Student Affairs with the decision to eliminate the program on July 8, as the team was in conversation with Transpo, who requested a decision as soon as possible.
“We are working with Saint Mary’s Student Government and are in conversation with the university administration to find a suitable alternative that will meet the needs of our campus communities and ensure the safety of every student on our campuses,” Benavides said.
Saint Mary’s Student Government Association did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the cancellation of Midnight Express services by the time of publication Sunday night.
Some potential alternatives include a program to alleviate the costs of transportation for students of low socioeconomic status and a partnership with a ride sharing app to provide safe night rides, Benavides said.
“We encourage students to reach out and provide any suggestions for programs to ensure students’ safety, especially while traveling on weekends,” Benavides said. “We are cognizant of the gap left by the absence of this program, and will be moving any available funds to the creation of a suitable replacement.”