Driving program hits bumps

By Becca Clemons

The UK Student Government’s “Cats Cruiser” program has not met an easy road on its path to realization. The anticipated start date has been pushed back multiple times, and now members of the community who live near some of the proposed routes are speaking out about the program.

LexTran associates, SG representatives and community members were given a driving tour Wednesday where questions were answered and feedback was accepted. The tour took place on a 17-passenger LexTran vehicle, identical to the ones that will be used for the program.

Community members living in neighborhoods near UK’s campus expressed concerns about students being dropped off and picked up in residential areas late at night where families may be trying to sleep.

Kathy Franklin, a resident in the Seven Parks neighborhood, said the service would have an impact on families, and the creators need to look beyond UK and student issues.

“The issue is the impact on neighborhoods at a time of day that we’d like to be quiet,” Franklin said.

The goal is to get as close to students’ residences as possible without stopping in fron­t of or next to a residential home, SG President Ryan Smith said.

SG Deputy Chief of Staff Max Stefka said changes have been made to the routes already for the convenience of students and drivers.

Homeowners like Franklin and Columbia Heights resident Janet Cowen worry about the service becoming a “drunk bus” that transports inebriated students to and from campus, disturbing neighboring areas in the process.

“A lot of people think it’s a drunk shuttle, but there’s no way a university’s going to sign off on a drunk shuttle,” Elizabeth neighborhood resident Harck Pickett said.

Smith said one of the goals of the program is safety, and by providing safe and reliable student transportation, assaults and drunken driving would be prevented.

Buses will run at what are seen as the highest risk times, Stefka said, when the most students are out.

Stefka spent the past summer researching similar programs at benchmark institutions and found that a campus of UK’s size needed more than just a taxi service. Pennsylvania State University, Auburn University and the University of Florida are schools that have similar transportation services. Stefka said Auburn sees about 1,500 students per weekend using its driving program, which uses the same sized vehicles during the same hours as Cats Cruiser.

“We’ve gotten a substantial amount of input from students relating to the desire to have some kind of transportation,” Smith said.

Homeowners also expressed concern for the noise emitted by the vans late at night, every half hour.

LexTran General Manager Rocky Burke said the buses are smaller than regular buses and are much quieter as well.

Other community members could use the buses as well for the cost of the regular $1 LexTran fare, while students ride free with a UK student ID.

Stefka and Smith, along with others, have been working on evolving and changing the program for a matter of months, and Stefka said the constant modification may have been the cause of some miscommunication with community members.

Cowen said she’s not opposed to helping students but doesn’t think a route down the 600 block of Columbia Avenue is necessary.

Franklin said restricting the program to main roads, avoiding residential streets, is the best idea.

Diane Lawless, 3rd District Lexington city councilwoman, said amendments have been and can continue to be made on the route and that “we’re moving in the right direction.” She said she will continue to be a link between UK and surrounding neighborhood residents.

“I think [the ride] was really constructive, and I really appreciate and value their feedback,” Stefka said.

“We just want to serve the students in the best way possible,” Smith said.

SG plans to try the program starting Dec. 2 until the end of the semester, Smith said. After that, final preparations can be made for Cats Cruiser to begin in the spring 2011 semester.