Escort Service increases capacity

Janette Neuwahl

For the first time in two years, Northwestern’s Escort Service has retained enough drivers to respond to the flood of calls received each night, said student coordinator Sara Nelson.

With roughly 30 drivers, up from 20 at the beginning of the year and a low of nine a year ago, the Escort Service has been able to operate all three of its cars each night, allowing for a faster response time to student calls.

Only one car was consistently in operation last year because of a lack of employees, causing long waits for students using the service.

“This is the first time I can remember having that many people and I’ve worked here for two years,” said Nelson, a Weinberg senior. “It’s absolutely amazing because we did it so quickly and without much help.”

Nelson said she decided to expand hiring after she became coordinator in Fall Quarter 2000 and saw the need to make use of the additional cars, requiring more drivers.

For Winter Quarter, the Escort Service has expanded its hours from 8 p.m. to 2:30 a.m., adding an extra hour to Fall Quarter’s times of 9 p.m. to 2:30 a.m.

Nelson said that despite the new bill, wages increased a dollar per hour last year, bringing drivers’ present hourly earnings to $7.50.

“The wage increase last year seemed to help short term,” Nelson said. “I think increasing it would help retain workers more.”

The Escort Service also has benefited in recent months from increased Associated Student Government attention. After a graduate student was attacked running on the Lakefill Oct. 8, Women’s Coalition introduced a bill to ASG outlining ideas to improve campus safety.

Highlighted in the bill was the need to expand the Escort Service, increase hours and raise driver wages. An additional provision to the bill called for an increase in available cars as well.

“We have two or three cars out most nights and don’t spend a lot of time sitting around now,” said driver Andrew Welch, a Weinberg junior. “We have more cars out every night (as opposed to last year), which makes it a lot easier because we’re not as rushed.”

The increase in drivers and cars will help alleviate the wait most students experience when they call the Escort Service, Welch said.

“On most nights, there is a 15- to 20-minute wait, but from 9:30 to 11:00 p.m. we get the most calls and have a maximum wait time,” he said. “This is basically the time when everyone comes home from the places they work.”

At the ASG meeting last week, senators passed a separate bill specifically seeking to improve the Escort Service.

“The incident on the Lakefill and the Women’s Coalition bill certainly brought the Escort Service problems to campus attention, but I think it’s always a concern,” said Public Affairs Residential College Sen. Eileen Keeley, who introduced the bill.

Keeley’s bill calls for replacing the three rental cars currently in use, increasing employee wages, expanding weekend hours, and improving publicity of the service to students. Keeley said she also wants the service to get an answering machine and a fourth car to decrease waiting time for students.

“The Escort Service expansion is one way that people (can be proactive) and make sure they have a safe way to get home,” said Keeley, a Weinberg junior.

Keeley said she also plans to meet with administrators along with ASG Student Services Vice President Courtney Brunsfeld to discuss funding for the Escort Service.

“ASG got a loose commitment from President Bienen that if we could show a need, then he would honor it,” Keeley said. “Though the provision for an additional car is probably a ways off, it is on our wish list to cut down wait time.”

Keeley said the bill’s current focus is to attain a wage increase for drivers.

“The biggest thing we want is to get an increase in pay,” she said. “Hopefully, a lot of the things we asked for in the bill, such as getting answering messages on the phone number and a new car, can happen within the quarter.”