Saint Mary’s students react to Midnight Express cancellation
Maeve Filbin | Tuesday, September 3, 2019
When Saint Mary’s senior Marta Antonetti learned the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s student governments jointly moved to cancel the South Bend Transpo Midnight Express route, she created and distributed a Google Forms petition for students to sign if they were “angered by the decision.”
Since then, about 40 students have signed the petition asking the Saint Mary’s administration to either reinstate the program or provide a new Saturday service as soon as possible, Antonetti said.
“Recently the collective Student Administration of ND/SMC (of course [Holy Cross] was excluded from the conversation, we wouldn’t actually want to create [an] environment where we interact with one another) decided to cease the Midnight Express/Saturday service,” Antonetti said in the Google Form. “This decision harms ROTC students, band students, lower-income students, students with disabilities, student athletes, members of ND clubs, student workers and the ND/SMC/HCC community. As far as we know, this decision was made without consulting the student body … BAVO or GreenDot or anyone who might have a legitimate reason to keep the bus going.”
Since starting the petition, Antonetti met with vice president for student affairs Karen Johnson to discuss the decision-making process that resulted in the cancellation and discuss potential solutions for the future. She said she feels frustrated that the administrations have yet to effectively replace the Midnight Express.
“It’s been two months and there’s been no real solution,” Antonetti said. “A solution has to be put forward, an actual one that makes sense.”
This summer, the student governments of Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame decided to cancel the South Bend Transpo Midnight Express route after Transpo announced a 50% price hike in operating costs. Due to this cancellation and other scheduling changes, the final South Bend Transpo bus leaving the Grotto towards Saint Mary’s Regina Hall stop will leave at 9:13 p.m. Fridays, and no Saturday services will be provided at all.
In a campus-wide email Aug. 27, Johnson said Blinkie, the Saint Mary’s escort van service, will serve as alternative transportation.
“[Blinkie] WILL continue to run from dark to 2 a.m. Sunday-Thursday and from dark to 4 a.m. on Friday and Saturday,” Johnson said in the email. “Blinkie tries to get to Notre Dame at least once per hour to pick up students at the Grotto. Additionally, Blinkie will start service at noon on Saturday and Sunday starting Monday, October 28, 2019 through Monday, March 23, 2020.”
Compared to the regular Midnight Express route, Blinkie is not always a reliable resource, as it doesn’t always maintain a strict schedule and can sometimes fill up quickly, Saint Mary’s sophomore Lisie Fahrenbach said.
“Sometimes it’s just really hard to track down Blinkie and figure out when it’s going to come, and then it’ll pass you like five times and you can’t get in it yet,” Fahrenbach said. “I think that could end up being an issue for a lot of people, especially safety-wise, because it’s not going to stop people from going places. It’s just going to make it potentially dangerous for people to go places … when it’s dark out, instead of them having a safe option to get back and forth to areas around Notre Dame.”
Blinkie does not serve the same purpose the Transpo Midnight Express and separate routes filled, sophomore Shannon Valley said.
“The problem with trying to rely on Blinkie is that getting you over to other places is not its priority,” Valley said. “[Blinkie’s] priority is getting people from the parking lot to their dorms.”
While some Saint Mary’s students might resort to using Uber, Lyft or other ride-sharing apps, Valley said others relied on the free bus services.
“Girls can’t afford to Uber anytime they want to go somewhere,” Valley said. “This is going to be a really hard thing for them. … If they depend on the buses for things, they’re not going to be able to go anywhere.”
Junior Bridget Puetz said she does not think the cancellation will largely affect upperclassmen, but she expressed concerns for first-year students still trying to maneuver making their way across the street to Notre Dame.
“I think it’s sad for our underclassmen,” Puetz said. “They’re still trying to figure out their friends, so if [they needed to go home alone], at least they had the bus. If I were a freshman and they took [the Midnight Express] away, I think that I would be really, really affected. I mean, I took it a lot freshman year. It was a really good backup just to know that it was there and to know that it was reliable.”
Junior Hunter Kehoe said she also feared for the safety of students walking down Saint Mary’s Road, specifically first-years who are unfamiliar with campus.
“I don’t think the administration realizes that girls are going over to Notre Dame very late at night and a lot of them are coming back intoxicated, may it be legal or not,” Kehoe said. “And it is just beyond me that they’re going to allow girls that just got here [and] don’t know their way around … to walk down a road that has one emergency service call on it [and] very, very dim lights.”
Leaving students to walk across State Route 933 at night poses a grave danger, Kehoe said.
“It scares my mom, because she’s like, ‘I don’t think they’re going to do anything about it until something horrible happens and they’re finally going to wake up about it,’” Kehoe said. “You come here and you expect to have like guardians, because your parents aren’t here. It’s so sad that I have to sit here and say that it’s going to take a horrible accident for [the administrations] to realize that this is the worst decision they could have made.”
Kehoe said she thinks relying on ride-sharing apps provides more uncertainty for those seeking a way back to campus and hopes Saint Mary’s Campus Safety will fill the hole left by the cancelled Friday and Saturday services.
“Karen Johnson said that the other alternative means of transportation was that girls would have to find Uber rides home,” Kehoe said. “All across the country, there have been reported accidents of young women in Ubers being kidnapped, being killed, getting in the wrong cars that aren’t their Ubers. If you’re going to cancel [the bus services], then every single time I call Security, they better come pick me up … whatever the case is.”
Johnson did not immediately respond when asked for comment.
Senior Olivia Allen, Saint Mary’s student government association vice president, said Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross student government executives met Friday to discuss future plans going forward in the wake of the cancellation.
“During our meeting on Friday, we discussed different transportation options for the tri-campus community, looking into what other colleges have done and what each SGA can make work financially,” Allen said in an email. “We will be releasing a statement as a tri-campus SGA, so at this time I don’t have a definitive answer as to what the future will hold. We are putting a lot of work into finding a solution and to keep the students safe, but this requires an extensive amount of meetings with SGA advisors across the three schools as well as higher college administration.”
Allen said she wanted to remind frustrated students the Midnight Express route was initiated and funded by Notre Dame student government, and Saint Mary’s only became involved in its cancellation late in the decision-making process.
“For now, I think it is important to note that Saint Mary’s SGA never paid for the Midnight Express, it has always been a Notre Dame-funded program, as we were only consulted on the matter a few days before the decision was made,” she said.
Students in need of a ride between the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s campuses are highly encouraged to use Blinkie and call Campus Safety, Allen said.
“The Saint Mary’s security department really cares about the well-being of the students and is doing their best to help us without the Midnight Express in place,” she said.