On a chilly Saturday night, we rode the Off Campus College Transport’s (OCCT) Downtown Express (DE) line from midnight to 3:30 a.m., both to meet the drivers and to get an inside look at the operations behind the beating heart of Binghamton University’s nightlife.
Driven, managed and operated by students, OCCT allows on-campus students free travel Downtown to Binghamton’s bar scene, the University’s Greek life and residential housing on busy weekend nights. The DE route begins at 9:45 p.m. on Fridays and 9:30 p.m. on Saturdays, running until 3:15 a.m., though the route changes after 1 a.m.
We met our first driver, Michael Guberman, a sophomore majoring in economics, at the University Union at midnight sharp. He said that he started driving for OCCT about a month ago, with his first shift on Halloweekend. He shared how he feels about driving in the new position.
“I love it,” Michael said. “They pay me to do something that I love.”
On our first trip Downtown, around 40 students boarded — a rowdy crowd but not nearly as many people as we had expected. We arrived at the State Street and Hawley Street stop around 12:15 a.m. expecting a long line to board, though our bus returned only about half full. As we arrived back on campus, Michael performed a visual inspection of the bus, ensuring that it was clean and safe for the next trip.
After two round trips with Michael, we then boarded a bus driven by Liam King, a freshman majoring in biology, at around 1 a.m. This was just the second week he had spent on a Late Nite shift, but he had logged “70 hours over the past two weeks.” He said that driving for OCCT helped him acclimate to college.
“Being a freshman, I came in not knowing this place at all,” Liam said. “Being able to learn the routes and drive the campus shuttle around, I just got used to campus [and] got used to Downtown. It’s really just a great opportunity to learn the geography of this place.”
Once our hour with Liam was up, we had a quick break at the University Union stop before joining Katie Maldonado, a junior majoring in psychology, who was on her first Late Nite shift at around 2:15 a.m. It was her fourth day driving. She said that everybody had been relatively tame, and she had received several compliments on her music.
After arriving Downtown at around 2:30 a.m., we picked up some of the last students of the night. Shortly into the return trip, a student vomited on himself and the bus floor. Katie handled the situation like a professional, following procedure by radioing OCCT dispatchers and remaining calm and collected throughout.
After the student started hunching over in his seat and nearly fell on the ground, we called Harpur’s Ferry, BU’s student-run volunteer ambulance service, who met us at the University Union. The emergency medical technicians assessed the situation and led the student to the ambulance. His name was taken down for OCCT’s $150 cleanup fee.
An OCCT dispatcher met us at the University Union to coordinate a response and ensure that everybody felt safe and comfortable. With Katie’s vehicle now out of service, the dispatcher rerouted our last bus to take the [West Side] Inbound route, so that the student safety officers at the Downtown stop could get home.
We embarked on our final ride of the night with Daniel Kogan, a sophomore majoring in mathematical sciences, leaving campus at around 3 a.m. A member of the fall one training class, as were the rest of the night’s drivers, Daniel said that he found peaceful solace in driving for Late Nite.
“In my opinion, it’s a little less chaotic than the day shift,” Daniel said. “Or in some ways, because first of all, there’s less people on the bus, and there’s no traffic, so I feel like I get a lot more downtime.”
After we returned to campus at 3:30 a.m. and thanked Daniel for his time, we left with a deeper appreciation for the work and challenges experienced by Late Nite drivers. As students, just like us, we came to understand a little of what they meant when they described OCCT’s community. Every driver we met that night spoke about the benefits of the job, both tangible and intangible, describing the sense of camaraderie they felt.
“There’s a lot of support with this job,” Daniel said. “[The four] drivers for Late Nite night tonight are actually all from my training class, so we know each other pretty well, and I think OCCT has allowed me to form some valuable connections.”