Due to the prevalence of hate crimes and increased reporting about public sexual assault perpetrated by strangers at Cornell University, many students have expressed concerns about their safety when walking home alone after dark on campus and its surrounding areas. To address these concerns, we propose expanding the Blue Light User Extension (B.L.U.E.) shuttle service to run continuously throughout the academic year. Every member of the Cornell community deserves to feel safe returning to their residence after a night of studying or socializing. Read on if you would like to participate in the movement to strengthen safety initiatives at Cornell University.
The Background of B.L.U.E.
In 2009, the Student Assembly (SA) passed Resolution 9 to “assess the need on campus to create a safe and supportive environment” for students. After sending a survey to all undergraduate students, 1,505 undergraduate students replied. From that sample, 49.43 percent of students walked home from 10 p.m.- 2 a.m. at least three times a week, 56.51 percent walked home alone often or always, 41 percent of students felt unsafe walking home, and only three percent of students had ever used the Blue Light Walking Escort Service.
In response to a string of forcible touching incidents, the Student Assembly’s Women’s Issues Committee worked to revamp the Blue Light Escort Service, which subsequently experienced skyrocketed usage of 17 calls in August 2011. Recognizing that this was not enough, the Committee teamed up with the Cornell Women’s Resource Center (CWRC) to further tackle students’ concerns about walking home at night. While the TCAT bus system runs throughout the day and night, after 6 p.m. the bus stops infrequently and is thus underutilized by students. Additionally, students noted problematic distance between TCAT stops and their residences — making walking alone inevitable even if they did ride TCAT.
Together, SA and CWRC student leaders envisioned a free, late-night transportation system that would bring students directly to their doorstep. In the spring of 2011, this vision was actualized in the form of the B.L.U.E. shuttle. With support from Cornell Hillel, the WRC and SA launched the B.L.U.E. shuttle’s pilot program from May 8 to May 12, 2011. The shuttle picked students up at the TCAT bus stops of Bradfield Hall, the corner of Tower Road and East Avenue, and Anabel Taylor Hall. Picking students up near popular study areas, the shuttle ran along a route designed specifically with high-risk locations in mind. Unlike TCAT, any Cornell student could specify to the driver where they would like to get off. Since its inception, this feature of the B.L.U.E. shuttle has been critical to its success and relevance.
For the pilot program, Cornell’s Transportation Department donated vans and provided data to design the shuttle’s route. Despite the fact that the program was put together within one week with little time for effective publicity, 75 students rode the shuttle during that May 2011 study week. Beyond ridership, the B.L.U.E. Shuttle received a resounding response from the Cornell community. The Transportation Department set up an email account for the pilot program, and the account received numerous emails from students who had previously felt unsafe on campus, parents who worried about their children going home late at night and night shift librarians requesting for the service to be extended. One student wrote in encouraging the continuation of the B.L.U.E. shuttle, “Many times I have been stuck on the late night shift on campus (work study) and have to walk home after midnight. It is nerve wracking for both myself and my parents, especially with the recent incidences of sexual assault, to walk home that late at night, and I am very thankful for the new initiative. Please continue this in the fall, as I am abroad and can assure you I will be taking advantage of this.”
Not only did the B.L.U.E. Shuttle continue in fall 2011, but it found a new home in the Cornell Women’s Resource Center’s programming and byline funding. Three members of the Cornell Women’s Resource Center Advisory Board took on the roles of coordinators with help from CWRC Director Laura Weiss, representatives from Cornell’s Transportation Department and volunteers. With the newly allotted byline funding of approximately $6,500 a year, the B.L.U.E. team could afford to coordinate five shuttle runs per year and chose to focus on the “prelim,” midterm and final seasons.
The B.L.U.E. Shuttle reached its highest ridership during the December 2011 and May 2012 runs. Between December 4 and December 8, 2011, 182 students boarded the shuttle, and between May 7 and May 10, 2012, 212 students caught a ride on B.L.U.E. Notably, the May 2012 run altered its hours from the original 10:30 p.m. - 2:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. - 3:45 a.m to reflect student requests that the shuttle begin and end later in the night. Although these are significant user numbers, we know that the B.L.U.E. shuttle has the potential to reach so many more students.
The B.L.U.E. shuttle is currently byline funded by the SA through the Cornell Women’s Resource Center and receives $0.50 of each student’s activity fee, which amounts to approximately $6,500. Because one shuttle costs approximately $350 a night to run from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m., the B.L.U.E. team can only coordinate five runs per year for three to four nights per run. These figures do not include publicity, which is essential to educating students about this new service.
Expanded from the original pilot program, the B.L.U.E. shuttle stops at four pick up locations on campus: Bradfield Hall, Kennedy Hall, Uris Hall and Annabel Taylor Hall. It roughly follows the route depicted in the accompanying map, but deviates from this route whenever a student is dropped off at their specific residence. The B.L.U.E. Shuttle will drop students off in Collegetown and Cayuga Heights in addition to destinations on campus. When the B.L.U.E. Shuttle is running continuously throughout the academic year, the already-established route would serve as the basis for the new Sunday to Thursday route. An alternate route will be created for the weekend — Friday and Saturday — that corresponds with student social life.
Key Challenges to the Current B.L.U.E. Shuttle System
Funding: Due to the limited funding B.L.U.E. receives via the Student Activity Fee, the team can only afford to coordinate five runs throughout the semester for three to four nights each. Although these have proven effective during traditional study periods, Cornell students study all semester long. If the University recognizes the value of the B.L.U.E. Shuttle in promoting feelings of safety — the Cornell University Police Department funded an extra weekend of B.L.U.E. shuttle service at a few days’ notice after the recent rape — it should provide the funding to run the service every day of the academic year.
Number of Shuttles: Last spring, the B.L.U.E. Team received reports from frustrated students who waited at a pick-up location for the B.L.U.E. Shuttle only to find the shuttle at capacity when it rode by. Because the funding only allows to run one shuttle, students have unfortunately been turned away from riding B.L.U.E. on popular nights. If we are to advertise and authentically reach more students, we need to have an adequate number of shuttles to meet this anticipated demand.
Route: While the current route effectively picks students up from campus libraries and academic centers and drops them off directly at their doorstep, this route fails to serve students during some of the riskiest times at Cornell: the weekend. A continuous B.L.U.E. Shuttle would have an alternate Friday and Saturday route that would account for social activity.
Recognition within Cornell Culture: Because the B.L.U.E. Shuttle operates sporadically — five times a year — it has not been incorporated into Cornell’s culture in the same way, for example, TCAT buses have. For students to see this as a legitimate safety option, the B.L.U.E. Shuttle needs to be expanded for everyday use.
Peer Institutions with Free Late-Night Transportation
Vanderbilt University has a system called Vandy Vans which is situated within a university whose student body size is extremely close to that of Cornell’s student body. The Vanderbilt Police Department administers the Vandy Vans shuttle bus program at Vanderbilt University. The Vandy Vans pick up and drop off at pre-designated points on campus. The service operates from 5:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. during the fall and spring semesters. The vans follow three routes on campus.
For more info see: http://studentorgs.vanderbilt.edu/vsg/services/vandy-vans/ .
Northwestern University is a suburban campus with a comparable student body size to that of Cornell. The universityoffers a variety of free shuttle services. The Campus Loop Shuttle operates daily from 9:00 p.m. to 3:16 a.m. during daylight savings time, and 6:00 pm to 3:16 am during standard time. The driver breaks from 7:53 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. It operates during the academic year.
For more info see: http://www.northwestern.edu/uservices/transportation/shuttles/evanston/index.html
They also offer a program called SafeRide. SafeRide is a service provided to members of the Northwestern community as a safe and free alternative to walking alone after dark. SafeRide drivers provide rides to and from destinations in and around Northwestern's Evanston campus. SafeRide is not a taxi, but a safety service meant to be used in conjunction with other strategies such as traveling in groups and using Northwestern's free Shuttle Service. SafeRide is staffed by student employees and administrators dedicated to enhancing campus safety.
For more info see: http://www.northwestern.edu/saferide/
University of Pennsylvania, a fellow Ivy, provides Penn Shuttles. Penn Shuttles provide "to door" transportation to and from campus to West Philadelphia, Center City and Powelton Village within Penn Transit's service area every day of the week between 6 p.m. and 7 a.m. For more info see: http://cms.business-services.upenn.edu/transportation/types-of-services/penn-shuttles.html
Third Forcible Touching Incident Reported This Week,The Cornell Daily Sun, November 2, 2010
Blue Light Calls Spiked in August, The Cornell Daily Sun, September 21, 2011
New Shuttle Will Offer Late-Night Trips, The Cornell Daily Sun, December 2, 2011
Late-Night Shuttle to Start During Study Week, The Cornell Daily Sun, May 6, 2011
Blue Light Sees Large Increase in Number of Calls for Help, The Cornell Daily Sun, April 25, 2012
Female Allegedly Raped Near Suspension Bridge Sunday Morning, The Cornell Daily Sun, September 2, 2012
Cornell Students Stress Vigilance After Sexual Attacks, The Cornell Daily Sun, October 17, 2012
What We Are Asking For
Funding for five vans to run continuously from 9:30 p.m. to 4 a.m. throughout the academic year
A campus study conducted to determine the “social” route for the Friday and Saturday evening shuttles
Financial support for publicity campaigns
The development of a B.L.U.E. Shuttle website and a smartphone application that features an updated shuttle schedule
By signing this petition, you are insisting that the administration be steadfast in providing funds to allow five B.L.U.E. shuttle vans to run continuously from 9:30 p.m. to 4 a.m. every night during the academic year, including weeknights and weekends. Although we understand that this will not stop students from being sexually assaulted — as nighttime and walking alone in the darkness are not perpetrators of rape — we want to stress the urgency that students feel safe walking home at Cornell. Having a dependable ride home contributes to building a sense of safety and community, which have slowly diminished in recent time for many Cornell students. Please sign this petition if you believe that the University should fund the B.L.U.E. Shuttle fully throughout the entire academic year.