A big, ominous van pulls up right outside of Goodyear Hall on South Campus every night. Instead of avoiding eye contact with the driver, or passing it by, students gladly board the van one by one.
Sub Board I, Inc.'s (SBI) Safety Shuttle runs every night, from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m., bussing UB students anywhere within a one-and-a-half mile radius of UB's South Campus. SBI's mission is to provide students with a safe way to get home.
"[Aside from] dodging the drunken students on Friday nights [who] play their own version of Frogger on Main Street, there's usually nothing too out of the ordinary," said Joseph Westlake, a senior exercise science major who has been driving the van for the past five semesters.
Referred as the "Rape Van" by many students, the Safety Shuttle received its official title in 1995. At first it was called the Anti-Rape Task Force, according to Nicole Sweeney, assistant director of SBI's health and education.
"The Anti-Rape Task Force started in 1975 as an SA program," Sweeney said. "SBI took over [later] and the name was changed because we weren't just preventing sexual assault."
Students are less likely to be mugged, robbed, jumped, or sexually assaulted if they're in a group, as opposed to walking alone. The shuttle service attempts to provide students with a safe alternative method of getting home.
Since student safety is SBI's first priority, only select students are hired to join its staff, which consists of applicants that prove to be responsible drivers with clean records.
"Slim pockets as a college sophomore are what prompted me to apply," Westlake said. "It took a pretty good recommendation letter to get noticed…but I got my interview."
Some of the drivers pointed out that many students who take advantage of the Safety Shuttle simply want to get home after pulling all-nighters in the Health Sciences Library. There are other students, often intoxicated, who use the van in order to get to parties scattered around South Campus on weekends.
"Being safe is a right, not a privilege, and that doesn't get taken away because you're drunk," said Demire Coffin-Williams, a junior psychology major. "Driving [drunk students] around isn't any different really…it's usually never a big deal."
Dealing with emotional or belligerent students helps make him a better person, and they provide him with entertainment on his shift, Westlake said.
Driving drunken students only becomes an issue when drivers fear that the students are on the verge of getting sick from consuming too much alcohol. In this type of situation, these students are not permitted on the bus.
"During the holiday season of , I had a group of students in the ‘Christmas spirit' come in wishing to go home," Westlake said. "Just to lighten the mood I asked them to sing a Christmas carol without specifying one. They each began to sing their own carol [in complete disharmony] without any regards for the other."
Most students are appreciative and understanding, but there are some take for granted the service they're being given.
One thing that can cause problems among students is that the drivers don't drop them off on a first-come-first-serve basis – students are dropped off based on the distance from South Campus.
"[We've] dealt with students who have attitudes…without us taking this job and these hours, they would have to walk home at 11:30 p.m., or 2 a.m.," said Laurielle Aviles, safety shuttle co-supervisor and a junior linguistics major. "They don't realize [that] we have a system set in place and we get everyone home as safely and efficiently as possible."
Other than a means to make money, most of the staff joined the Safety Shuttle committee because they like knowing that they're helping others and giving back to the university that gives them so much.
"I don't think there is any other school that has this service," said Tanjima Zinia, a second year graduate biophysics student. "It's pretty rewarding, you work to help the people in a different way."