Student react to recently modified traveller policies

“Trav” employees note that most policies have just been better-enforced, not changed

Caroline Leak

Students may have noticed a few changes in the way Traveller is run this year.

Traveller, a safe ride system serving the Washington and Lee community, is a student-run organization that was founded to prevent drunk driving and get students home safely.

Officials say the days of looking the other way when students brought alcoholic drinks onboard and buses were overfilled past the 28-person maximum are over.

Assistant Director of Public Safety Kevin Tierney became the faculty advisor to the Traveller Steering Committee last fall.

“I sat back last year, because I wanted to see how the students ran it,” Tierney said. “They were so lax that safety became a concern.”

He credits Caroline Brassfield, ’17, the current Traveller chair, with enforcing the rules in order to keep students safe.

“We actually have not changed our rules,” Brassfield said. She pointed out that the bus route is the only thing that has changed since Traveller was created.

The steering committee decided to condense the Red and Blue Lines – which serviced the stops in the country and city, respectively – into one route.

“The Blue Line was heinously underused,” Brassfield said.

When the construction of on-campus housing for juniors was announced two years ago, she said the steering committee immediately started planning for how they would adapt.

“The name of the game is doing the best for the most,” Brassfield said.

Each driver has a handheld counter to keep track of the number of rides given per night. At the end of each night, driver John Smith emails the number of rides given, miles driven and where the parties were that night.

Drivers used to deviate from the routes once they had a full busload in order to drop off passengers who were going to the same stop.

Now drivers are required to drive the entire route, even when they can’t pick up any more passengers.

“What’s the purpose in that?” driver Dennis Patterson said. “We slow down at the stops where there’s plenty of people in line, but I can’t pick them up because I’ve got 28 people already.”

“There’ve been nights where [John Smith and I] have driven 400 or 500 people,” he said. “You can’t do that if you stick to the routes.”

The number of monitors scheduled per night has doubled to eight. Brassfield said this was done to make sure each bus had a monitor, in addition to having people monitor the lines at popular stops.

“We had a decent amount of suggestions [for improvements] from the drivers, especially about having monitors on the buses,” Monitor Chair Garrett Singer, ’18, said.

“To me, I like the old way,” Patterson said. Patterson has driven W&L students around for seven years. Changing the route, eliminating the cabins and doubling the number of monitors per shift is a lot, he said.

Chris Tyler, ’18, agrees, saying they’ve made too many changes at once.

“The Trav route takes way too long to get from Red Square or the Quad to the country,” Tyler said.

Tyler and some of his fraternity brothers had planned to live in the cabins next year, but decided against it after the cabins were taken off of the route, he said.

They aren’t the only ones.

Lily Arnold, ’18, said she and her group of friends had considered living in the cabins, but changed their minds once the route changed.

This year seems to be the last year the cabins serve W&L seniors as off-campus housing.

Allie McNamara, ’17, lives in one of the cabins with three other women. She said the change was an adjustment at first.

“However, the Traveller committee and public safety have made great efforts to ensure that we get home safely,” McNamara said, crediting the reliability of Traveller Dispatch. “The only issue we have had is feeling like we needed to come home earlier to ensure that we get a ride home.”

“Students have lived off the route since the inception

of the route,” Singer said. He emphasized the importance of planning ahead. The Traveller system as students know it today began

with one bus driven by Smith in 2002. Fourteen years later, Traveller gives over 3,000 rides a night during Orientation Week.

“People have come to rely on us so much that if something does go wrong, it seems so much more painful because you’re not used to it,” Brassfield said.

“We’ve definitely gotten a lot of heat lately,” PR and Marketing Chair Ryan Curto, ’18, said.

Jennifer Stephens, ’17, said students are frustrated with the changes.

“I have seen so many people walk over a mile home,” Stephens said. “When they have to wait 45 minutes for a ride, they lose faith that they will have a ride home.”

Last Wednesday night was Christmas in the Country at the poles. Smith said the line stretched from Pole 1 to Pole 4 – roughly the length of a football field.

Threatening to drink and drive to avoid the lines is one of the most common reasons for a sanction, Brassfield said.

“A lot of students don’t realize that they still have to be responsible for themselves at the end of the day,” she said. “If it’s 2:30 a.m. and Trav isn’t running, it’s still not okay to drink and drive.”

In the hundreds of shifts that Singer has worked, he has only given two sanctions. Sanctions exist to protect the students and ensure that they know the rules and why the rules exist, he said.

“If you’re being drunk and rowdy, we don’t care,” Brassfield said. “It only becomes a problem when your safety becomes an issue.”

“We like to keep the consequences of misbehaving on Traveller within Traveller,” Singer said.

Singer and Tierney have worked to standardize training for new employees to ensure consistency in how the system runs.

“We look for a passion and commitment to get someone home safely,” Singer said. “But it takes a cool head, for sure.”

“It takes a certain type of person to do the job,” Patterson said. “But I’d say 99 percent of the students say thank you when they get on or get off.”

Tierney’s concern about the way Traveller was run last year is not just from a liability standpoint. His life was changed forever after his daughter survived a drunk driving car crash.

“So I take this very personally, to make this the best program it can be,” Tierney said. “We have to keep evolving to produce a better, safer system.”

“The precious cargo each bus carries,” Tierney said, “that’s the reason we’re doing this.”

“When you make decisions based on safety,” Brassfield said, “it’s really easy to know you’re doing the right thing.”