Students find faults with minibus service

As eager freshmen begin to fill their phonebooks with new numbers from just about everyone they meet, one number common to many of these lists is 432-WALK. The importance of using the Yale Escort and Minibus Services has been drilled into incoming students by the Yale College Council and during this month’s freshman security seminars, but some students have complained that taking advantage of Yale’s security services may not be as easy as punching a few numbers in a phone.

In the wake of a spike in Elm City crime in the past two summers, the University has emphasized escort and minibus services as an integral part of its effort to keep students safe, and changes are currently in the works to expand and improve the system. Meanwhile, students have had a mix of experiences with the service, ranging from satisfaction to frustration at being put on hold, and some are still unaware of its existence.

On his first night at Yale, Raj Persaud ’10 found himself at an off-campus apartment building hanging out with friends at 4 a.m., with few options for getting home.

“I was pretty much on the edge of New Haven,” Persaud said. “My friend said I couldn’t walk all the way home and that I should call the Minibus.”

Though initially reluctant because he thought the service might be “sketchy,” Persaud said he decided to take advantage of the University’s free service and was satisfied with the results. He said he thinks many students may be apprehensive about using the service, as he was.

“I felt bad about using it at first, but it was pretty efficient and effective,” Persaud said. “The driver was nice and courteous, and I was comfortable.”

But while Persaud was pleased with the Minibus, many students said they had less positive experiences, particularly due to excessive wait times. Last week, Alex Cassutt ’10 said, she could not reach the Minibus to take her home from a party.

“When I called the Minibus, all I got was an automated voice service,” Cassutt said. “I couldn’t use [it] when I was sober; I don’t even want to know what would’ve happened if I was drunk.”

After 10 minutes of waiting on hold, Cassutt said, she eventually gave up and waited until another friend was ready to leave the party.

Susan Burhans, security education coordinator for the University Police, said Yale is taking several steps to ensure that Cassutt’s situation is not the norm for students.

“The University has employed significant resources to improve the Minibus and Escort services,” Burhans said in an e-mail. “Improvements include increasing staff, security vans, and the number of buses and routes.”

Burhans said Yale is currently evaluating various staffing options that will increase the number of dispatchers during high-volume periods, thereby reducing wait times.

Other improvements, slated to be in place by the end of the semester, include a GPS tracking system that will allow students to view Minibus locations online in real time. Burhans said the new system will provide convenience without tying up phone lines.

Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg said she has not received any complaints from students about the current service, but said that any existing problems need to be addressed immediately.

“I think [the service] is very important — if students use it and if the Escort Service is efficient,” Trachtenberg said.

Chris Shirley ’10 said that although the Escort Service took him from Timothy Dwight College to Old Campus on a particularly rainy night, the process involved more waiting than he had anticipated.

“When I called [the Escort Service] I got a person who ended up putting me on hold for what seemed like a really long time,” Shirley said. “I almost hung up because I thought they had forgotten me, and they put me on hold twice,” Shirley said.

In the end though, the Escort Service delivered what Shirley needed.

“I was satisfied in that I was picked up and brought to where I needed to go,” he said. “It might be done quicker, but that’s true with lots of things.”

Some Yale students feel that the Minibus and Escort services are not well-known outside of the undergraduate student body. Mihaela Precup, a Fulbright Scholar from Romania, said that although she received a brochure about the service, she does not think it is advertised well enough.

“I think there are a lot of people who aren’t aware they can use this service,” Precup said.

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