Special Reports

Late-night bus riders generally well-mannered

A rider boards a CATA bus along College Avenue.  CDT/Christopher Weddle
A rider boards a CATA bus along College Avenue. CDT/Christopher Weddle CDT/Christopher Weddle

The Centre Area Transportation Authority provides a family of public transportation services, including community bus service throughout the Centre Region and the Loop and Link on the Penn State campus.

While most residents are familiar with CATA, I am certain that relatively few have the opportunity to see our operations in the early morning hours. On Fridays and Saturdays, CATA buses run past 2 a.m. on three routes that serve concentrations of student housing. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, Loop buses run even later.

Needless to say, our bus drivers and supervisors regularly see the results of the excessive consumption of alcohol.

From CATA’s perspective, there are four points that need to be made concerning late-night bus service:

•The large majority of CATA riders have not been drinking excessively. While almost all of our late-night patrons are young people, and many have indeed been consuming alcohol, most do behave responsibly. These early-morning riders can be rowdy, and the youthful behavior (especially the noise) can be challenging for our drivers.

•Without question, the small minority of CATA riders who have been drinking excessively do cause us problems. We have to have at least one operations supervisor on the street each weekend night to maintain order, and occasionally we are forced to call for police assistance because someone is too inebriated to exit the bus on his or her own. And almost every weekend our maintenance staff spends time cleaning up vomit and other spills.

•A good part of the excessive drinking we see involves others besides Penn State students. We find that our most challenging situations occur on football weekends and at other times when nonstudents — visitors from other schools, recent Penn State graduates, even older residents of this community — are riding the buses late at night.

•While some might see CATA services as enabling excessive drinking, we respectfully disagree. We think CATA provides a transportation alternative to those who have been consuming alcohol and who may have had their driving ability impaired. We also provide a safe ride home to people who could be victimized if they were walking.

Earlier this semester, CATA responded to a request from the University Park Undergraduate Association, working with the Penn State Department of Transportation Services, to implement trial White Loop service until 4 a.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. As someone who is almost never out after midnight, it was hard for me to see the need. But because the UPUA was funding the additional service I supported it.

The first weekend, about 1,500 passengers rode the Loop after 2:30 a.m., demonstrating that more than just a few people are still out on the street at that hour.

So far, the late-night bus service seems to be working. The UPUA has provided student ambassadors to ride the early-morning buses, not as police officers but simply as monitors to discourage unacceptable behavior and to remind riders that such behavior could result in the service being terminated. The drivers and supervisors who have worked the early-morning hours have not reported problems any worse than they typically see.

I have gotten up in the middle of the night and gone out to talk with our drivers and supervisor, the UPUA student ambassadors and the passengers. Among the riders, I did find people who appeared to have been drinking excessively. However, they were relatively few in number, and their behavior was not what I would consider out of line. And I can confirm that they were certainly better off riding home on the bus rather than walking or driving.

At CATA, we are actively working with Penn State, local law enforcement, UPUA and others to discourage excessive alcohol consumption. We have supervisors on duty at the busiest bus stops to maintain order.

When riders are out of control, we call for police assistance and have them removed for their own safety and for the safety of the other passengers and our employees. When we are able to identify a perpetrator, we seek restitution for the cost of any extra cleaning a bus may require or repair of any damage that has been caused.

On behalf of the CATA board of directors, and 150 dedicated employees, I am pleased to say that we are committed to providing safe, reliable, accessible and affordable transportation, wherever there is a need and when we have the resources to respond.

In providing this service we do, and will continue to, take all the steps we can to discourage excessive drinking.

Hugh A. Mose is general manager of the Centre Area Transportation Authority.