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Student effort sparks NIU shuttle service changes

DeKALB – Starting Friday, DeKalb residents will no longer have access to a late-night bus service that Northern Illinois University provides.

With collaboration from NIU's Student Association, NIU Police Department unveiled its Huskie Safe Line, which is replacing the former Late Night Ride Service. NIU students, faculty and staff will need to present a valid NIU One Card to use the shuttle ride service from 11 p.m. to 5:30 a.m.

The effort was spearheaded partly by NIU sophomore Alex Martin, a 19-year-old political science major and Student Association director of academic affairs. After hearing complaints of hour-long waits with the Late Night Ride service, which was open to both students and DeKalb residents, Martin met with NIU Police Chief Tom Phillips to discuss changes.

"This change happened just from one student's voice," Martin said. "Last year, I was a random student just like anyone else. There was nothing special about me, but I had an initiative. I spoke up and let my voice get heard."

The Late Night Ride operated similar to a free taxi service with a no-questions-asked policy. It would sometimes take people shopping to Walmart or to the Elburn train station for free, Phillips said.

The new Huskie Safe Line will run two routes on a total of 35 fixed bus stops. Two vans will run the routes with another two vans serving as alternates. A fifth van will be handicap accessible. The North Route's maximum wait time is 15 minutes, while the South Route's maximum is 20 minutes.

Phillips was aware of the issues with Late Night Ride service when he started as chief last year. He worked with the Student Association to approve the new service. Martin conducted a survey asking students about the pros and cons of Late Night Ride.

Phillips estimated that in 2012, the NIU Police Department received more than 30,000 calls for Late Night Ride, almost equal to the entire population of the city.

Phillips emphasized the importance of safety with the shuttle service. With the shorter wait times, students are less likely to give up on waiting for a bus and choosing to walk instead, he said.

"I want them to feel safe," Phillips said. "I want to have the service available to them so they feel they have an option and not have to walk down a dark street or dark alley."

Huskie Patrol is also available to students who don't want to walk short distances alone from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. weeknights. If a student calls Huskie Patrol, a student employee equipped with a police radio will walk them to their destination.

Martin said students don't need to be part of a large organization in order to inspire change on campus.

"You just have to have something on your mind and speak up," he said.

About Huskie Safe Line

Huskie Safe Line is a free shuttle service with 35 fixed stops. Northern Illinois University students, faculty and staff need to present an NIU One Card to use the service. The maximum wait time is 20 minutes for one route, shorter than the former Late Night Ride's sometimes hour-long wait times.

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