By Maria Grzywa —
University of Wisconsin–Stout students will have a safe option to travel to and from downtown after a night of drinking come next semester. Founder of Pulse Entertainment and recent Stout graduate Austin Witt and his friends Jake Hoffman, Drew Steinke and Ryan Peters created an idea to bring back the “Stout Drunk Bus” that stopped running in Menomonie fall of 2012.
The previous bus provided rides for free to Stout students with a valid Stout ID from the bars to certain locations around Menomonie to aid in getting them home safely. The bus was funded through student segregated fees addressed through Stout Student Associations.
“We feel like there was a market to be filled,” said Steinke, a junior in the Business Administration program, in regards to why another bus should be offered.
Witt, graduating with a degree in Business Administration in 2014, and his friends decided to fund their own safe ride bus to provide students with a means of getting to and from downtown Menomonie on weekends. In recent years, there have been multiple accounts of intoxicated students passing out in the streets, usually during the winter months, and not returning home safely. Witt and his friends decided to start the safe ride bus in honor of one of their friends who passed away.
Their personal investments are being used to get the safe ride system started. Witt and his friends personally bought a bus, are covering insurance and providing drivers. The bus was purchased through a private seller who also used it as a safe ride transport system.
With privately funding a safe ride bus service, there are a lot of technicalities that the team must go through. Witt is working personally with an insurance company as well as working with the city to get approval. The biggest problems being faced include operators of the bus. “There is a lot of risk and a lot of liability that goes into this,” said Witt, “because we are all under 25.”
Although the official title of the bus is Pulse Party Bus for insurance purposes, and the team plans on renting out the bus for parties during the summer months, Witt wants students to know that this is a safe ride system for students to use if they cannot get home from the bars safely.
“Around campus it can be referred to as the Pulse Safe Ride,” said Witt, clarifying that although for legal entities it is referred to as the Pulse Party Bus, it is first and foremost a means of getting students home safely.
Since the bus is not being funded through the school, students will have to pay to use the bus. A charge of $3 per person per ride will be applied to each student. However, for groups of 10 or more a discounted fee of $2 will be charged per student in the group. “It’s going to be a lot cheaper than a taxi and more reliable than a taxi,” said Witt.
The bus will run like a taxi service, picking up students at their specific locations and dropping them off at an assigned destination. The group decided to run it this way to prevent students from driving intoxicated and to make sure students get home safely. This is a tentative idea as the group wants to test the waters first and see what are the most common routes for students using their services. “We want to get a general idea of where we are picking the most people up at, and establish a route from that,” said Hoffman, a senior in the Hospitality program.
The charges are to help pay drivers once the bus gets running, help cover fuel and bus upkeep and cover on-going insurance costs. A donation box will also be on the bus to honor the group’s deceased friend and all donations will go to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Witt and his friends have decided to have one driver and one supervisor on the bus at all times of operation. The bus will have phone permanently in the bus to receive texts or calls from students who need rides to and from needed locations. The bus will run through the academic year Thursday through Saturday, 9 p.m. to 3 a.m.
“We also thought that for the busier months when students are out for karaoke Wednesday, we would also offer safe rides,” said Hoffman.
The drivers, who are requested by the insurance agency to be at least 23, will initially be from the original group who started the idea, but Witt says that after startup, they will look for more drivers as well. “We would alternate turns [each weekend] after each driver has been approved by an insurance agent,” said Steinke.
The supervisor working on the bus will be in charge of maintaining the students using the bus and make sure rules are followed. Although the rules are still a work-in-progress, obvious rules such as no smoking and no alcohol or drug use on the bus will be included. In fact, the Pulse Safe Bus will not tolerate any alcohol or drugs physically on the bus. The supervisor will also provide assistance to students who need help getting on and off the bus safely and address sexual consent issues if necessary.
If riders break rules they will be allowed one warning. If they are repeat offenders will be banned for the remainder of the school year. Warnings will last for a semester.
Although there are technical legalities that need to be worked out, and a full operational working plan needs to be approved, the group knows this is something the Stout community needs and therefore will make it work.
“There are a lot of hoops we need to jump through,” said Witt, “but we are persistent and we are not giving up.”