Higher Ed

Jitney service at URI comes under fire

Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Rogue Island Jitney — a newly proposed shuttle service that would take University of Rhode Island students back and forth from their campus to Narragansett hot spots — is currently facing opposition from the Narragansett Town Council and the university.

The service, if permitted to operate, would bring students to three Narragansett bars and restaurants. The Public Utilities Commission approved the service in January, but URI appealed the action Feb. 1. The appeal will now go to the Providence Superior Court. Adam Combies, the jitney’s creator, said he will not start operating the service until the court decides the appeal.

Jason Pina, dean of students and assistant vice president of student affairs at URI, said the school testified against the Rogue Island Jitney because it would encourage underage drinking and create an unsafe environment for students.

Pina said the university appealed the decision on the basis that “access to (university) property had not been approved.”

The Narragansett Town Council passed a resolution denouncing the jitney Feb. 7.

Combies said he came up with the idea after friends at URI consistently brought up the issue of “how to go out.” He said he does not intend for his proposed service to be “adversarial,” adding that he wants to work with URI and the surrounding community to find a “happy medium.”

State Sen. James Sheehan, D-Narragansett and North Kingstown — who wrote a letter denouncing the jitney to the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education — said it is “dancing awful close” to an illegal pub crawl.

But, according to Combies, the service does not fit that definition because it only transports 15 people at a time — not the 50 that would constitute a pub crawl by law.

Sheehan said taking the bus might encourage students to drink more than they should, leading to “rowdy behavior” and assault issues.

Sheehan also criticized the jitney’s 15-person capacity as too low. “If this is supposed to be a humanitarian effort, why would he leave people in the cold?” Sheehan asked.

But the idea is popular with students at URI. David Coates, student senate president, said the senate will discuss the issue this week.

The “opposition is really off-base on this one,” Coates said. “No one has pointed their fingers at the establishments,” he said, referring to the bars and restaurants that he said allow students to buy excessive amounts of alcohol and are responsible for checking identification.

Coates rejected the opposition’s concern about binge drinking, which he said does not only concern students.

“If we can take 45 people off the road every weekend, I think it’s a great thing,” Coates said.

Combie said preventing drunk driving is the service’s purpose. He added that the town council and URI have brought up valid points, but he does not think the jitney will contribute to a “culture of excessive alcohol consumption.”

Combie said he will work with the Public Utilities Commission to work out the “kinks” and alleviate concerns. “It’s certainly feasible that everyone that wants a ride home can get a ride home,” he said. “I don’t want to leave anyone out in the cold.”

Jane Tracy ’14 said she did not see a need for a similar service at Brown. “I don’t think there’s a club scene here at Brown, at least not that I’ve been exposed to,” she said. She added that she would not be opposed to a shuttle like the jitney, but that she does not know if she would use it.

But a shuttle between campus and downtown would be useful because students sometimes have difficulty finding cabs, Sarah Levy ’12 said.

Emma Thorne ’12 said that for new students, first-years and transfers, it is easy to get lost on the way back to campus from downtown and a shuttle could help alleviate those issues.

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