The Nightline bus route will continue this semester despite decreased ridership over the Fall 2017 semester compared to its initial trial period.
According to the Office of External Affairs, ridership during the Fall 2017 semester totaled 445 rides, lower than during the four-week trial period that saw 519 rides.
Beginning in March 2017, Nightline has provided students with free transportation from campus to locations like Meijer, Stardust Lanes bowling alley and downtown Saginaw.
The route is a partnership between SVSU and Saginaw Transit Authority Regional Services (STARS).
The route’s initial trial period ran weekends from March 23 to April 22 and was deemed popular enough to fund the program through the Fall 2017 and Winter 2018 semesters, but the program saw a subsequent drop-off in ridership.
Once Student Association passed a resolution approving Nightline, it was funded with a $10,000 appropriation that, along with funding from SVSU and the downtown development authorities in Kochville Township and the city of Saginaw, will cover this semester’s route.
SA representatives who worked on bringing the bus route to campus, as well as administration officials and their partners at STARS and the Kochville and Saginaw DDAs, are doubling down on the program. They hope to use advertising and outreach along with promotions from businesses along the route to increase ridership this semester.
“Our numbers were lower than expected, so if students want to keep the Nightline, they need to use it,” said SA President Lauren Kreiss.
According to STARS Executive Director Glenn Steffens, feedback from students who rode Nightline last semester was overwhelmingly positive, but many students on campus hadn’t heard of the route.
“What we were hearing back was that a lot of students weren’t aware of the program.It just sounded like the outreach wasn’t there,” Steffens said. “So that’s when (SA) stepped up, and they were wonderful.”
SA members heavily promoted Nightline on social media, with fliers, and by setting up marketing tables. STARS also ran a promotion giving out free iPads to selected riders.
One of the difficulties citied by officials involved in the program is that of the local car-centric culture, in which people are often not familiar with public transportation.
“We are a society, especially in Michigan, where a lot of people have never used mass transit before,” said SVSU Director of Governmental Affairs John Kaczynski.
Steffens, who has worked with SVSU and SA on Nightline from the beginning, emphasized that students will have to use the bus route in order for it to continue into the future and eventually expand.
“Whether it’s private sector, government agencies or municipalities, if they’re going to drop money and invest in this type of system, they need to know that students have bought in,” Steffens said. “If (students) give us good numbers for ridership on this, … you will see an expansion of service.”
SVSU Director of External Affairs Jaime McKenna gave some reasons why students should take advantage of Nightline.
“It’s an opportunity for students to see what their town has to offer,” McKenna said. “They live in this community nine or 10 months out of the year, some live in the community year-round. To not expose them to things past Pierce Road is a disservice to them.”
While the route reaches several local bars, it also stops near many restaurants and other businesses that are all-ages. A survey of Nightline riders found that nearly half of its riders were under 21 years of age.
The Nightline route will remain the same as last semester’s, and is available at the SA office, posted around campus and online.