Students pay for late-night busing in tuition, PARTA says goes unused

Alyssa Morlacci, Gabe Kramer

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Video by Gabe Kramer.

During the past year, the Kent City Police Department has arrested more than 200 people for operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated.

“One of the DUI crashes I handled was straight on into a tree and the engine of the car was pushed into the passenger, and this driver killed his buddy,” said James Prusha, administrative lieutenant for the Kent State Police Department. “Had we stopped him before then, we would have saved a life.”

Yet students are already paying for an alternative transportation option and most are unaware it’s part of their fees.

Sophomore fashion merchandising major Madison Merz utilizes the taxi services in Kent but said she finds herself spending at least $10 most weekends.

“I use the taxi system mainly on weekends when I am with my group of friends, especially on days when the weather isn’t nice and when we also don’t feel like walking to our location,” Merz said.

Merz and other full-time students at the university pay about $100 per year for transportation, allowing PARTA to receive more than $2 million from student tuition annually.

Part of PARTA services is a bus called the “Downtowner,” which runs from 10 p.m. until 3 a.m. Thursday and Friday nights, last picking up passengers in downtown Kent on the corner of Water and Erie streets at 1:48 a.m. and dropping them off at locations around campus.

It’s similar to other city-university busing systems, such as the University of Akron’s “Roo Express,” which services riders from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, taking students directly to their homes on return trips.

PARTA, however, eliminated their Saturday night route in 2010 due to a lack of ridership.

“We ran it and couldn’t get people to hop on,” said Joseph Yensel, manager of operations and information technology for PARTA.

However, during the past year, about one-third of the total arrests for operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated were made Saturday nights between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.

Prusha said this percentage would actually be larger if the city’s police force wasn’t busy making 28 prohibition, or underage drinking, arrests during just the first three weeks of the semester, while also answering a variety of police calls.

“This time of year, there’s a lot of parties and people are calling in noise complaints and fights and underage drinking,” Prusha said. “Our night shift can be so busy doing all that stuff that we don’t have much time to try to stop cars.”

Prusha said the first offense for driving under the influence is a first-degree misdemeanor, meaning charges can reach up to six months in jail, a $1,000 fine and license suspension.

Yensel said in order for PARTA to relaunch the late-night route on Saturdays, there needs to be a demand for the transportation. The company is open to recommendations, and it recently tweaked a route to Dix Stadium based on a suggestion made via Twitter.

Recommendations can also be made by emailing [email protected].

Alyssa Morlacci is a city reporter for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her atamorlac[email protected].