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'Huskie Pups' to debut at NIU this fall

University plans to add four open-air electric trams

DeKALB — When classes begin in a couple of weeks, Northern Illinois University students will have access to an electronic tram to take them to class.

The handicapped-accessible Huskie Pup arrived on campus July 29, just in time for the start of the fall semester Aug. 25. The vehicle can travel up to 25 mph along a route from near the Student Recreation Center, down the center of campus to the Martin Luther King Commons, according to a campus map.

The 11-passenger Pup currently on campus is a beta version that university officials wanted to test this summer before they considered adding three more just like it, said Bill Nicklas, NIU vice president for public safety and community relations.

Because university officials do not like that the Pup has enclosed doors and windows and could potentially dissuade students from hopping on, they are considering adding three non-enclosed trams that collectively would be similar to the price of the one $55,000 Pup they already have, Nicklas said.

"We got the vehicle, but you can see it has some limitations," Nicklas said. "We're looking for easy-on, easy-off vehicles with a roof and windshield that will seat 12 to 15."

NIU's Board of Trustees voted to approve a $270,000 expenditure in May for four tram vehicles and the construction needed to widen some sidewalks to accommodate them. Construction for widening sidewalks for the Pup are now complete, said Belinda Roller, an NIU architect overseeing the project.

The long-term goal of the Pups is to use low emission shuttles running on three-minute headways, according to NIU documents. NIU officials hope the Pups will bring fewer cars to campus and allow students to get from one side of campus to another quickly, the documents show.

Nicklas said the Pup currently on campus will be decorated with decals. University officials expect to make a decision within the next few days on whether to add non-enclosed trams or add more trams similar to the tram they already have, he said.

Meanwhile, NIU students such as Brett Williams, Director of Mass Transit for NIU's Student Association, said they are excited to see the Pups around campus as an alternative to the Huskie bus.

"Any time you can bring a student to and from one side of campus to the other more efficiently, it's always a good thing," Williams said.

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