Gone are the days of trekking to the Pacific Avenue Metro Station in the wee hours of the morn to wait for a bus. Due to a cut in the Santa Cruz Metro service, UC Santa Cruz’s Transportation and Parking Services (TAPS) began running the Metro’s Night Owl route at the start of fall quarter.
The Santa Cruz Metro’s board of directors announced the cut in a spring meeting, among cuts to several other Santa Cruz and Watsonville routes.
TAPS transportation supervisor Kevin Parks said the staff had not initiated the switch, but have done their best to absorb the change.
“We’re trying to give students all of — or at least some of — their money’s worth,” Parks said.
The TAPS Night Owl emulates the 16 and 19 Metro bus routes, and departs downtown three times Sunday through Thursday, 10 times on Friday and 11 times on Saturday. Two modified 35-foot TAPS buses complete all trips.
Third-year Ann Marie Bowlus used the Metro Night Owl frequently last year.
“I lived on campus, and I was pretty dependent on it,” Bowlus said. “But I got a bike to compensate for the reduced transporation.”
A former Metro Night Owl bus driver who wished to remain anonymous is frustrated with the Metro Night Owl’s absence.
“Everybody used that route. But bus drivers don’t get any say, really,” he said. “The only way we’ll solve this is if enough people complain. Citizens have to do their part, because a lot of us [bus operators] are just glad to have a job and can’t really do anything.”
He said he found it hard to believe the cut was entirely due to a lack of funding, and the Metro had approved hiring 15 new drivers amid the cuts.
The UCSC Night Owl is operated by current TAPS drivers, with roughly three drivers running the service each night.
TAPS employee Fran Van Atta operates the Night Owl regularly.
“I was chosen for the job because of my low seniority status,” Van Atta said. “It’s a late night, but it’s also more paid hours, which I’m glad for.”
Not all shifts are automatically covered, and drivers must come forth every week to take up the empty shifts. Atta noted while there can be a weekly scramble to get the spots filled, the TAPS Night Owl manages to run trips consistently.
Parks hopes students will respect and understand the Night Owl’s purpose.
“Most students go downtown to have a good Friday or Saturday night, and they don’t come back wasted,” Parks said. “But we’re not puke runs … if you’re smashed out of your mind, please do everybody a favor and use the cab service.”
Second-year Ben Lilly said the change had not disrupted his nightlife.
“I still use [the Night Owl] about the same amount,” Lilly said. “I’ve never not gone to a party for lack of a bus. It kind of changed the social geography of the city … But it’s pretty much the same if you’re willing to walk.”
Passengers are required to show their student ID before boarding a TAPS Night Owl, in accordance with the campus’s evening closure. Van Atta said non-students may board the bus from point-to-point off-campus if space allows.
The former Metro driver who wished to remain anonymous said he hopes the Metro Night Owl will be reinstated.
“They said they found some extra funds, so they might be bringing it back,” he said. “The second they do that, everybody will be happy.”
Students voted for the Night Owl service in 2005 for an additional $100 quarterly transportation fee. Although the revenue went directly to TAPS, roughly $80,000 was diverted to fund the Metro Night Owl each year.
Parks said TAPS will continue to operate the service, and doubts Metro’s Night Owl will return in the near future.