Ticket To Ride
McGarrett's has started a "party bus" for CSUMB students, but is that something the school should be providing?
Thursday, February 11, 1999
Even before Cal State Monterey Bay (CSUMB) opened its doors four years ago, the word went out among club and bar owners in downtown Monterey: Prepare for the weekend student onslaught.
"That influx onto Alvarado Street never happened," says Brooke Lewis, owner of McGarrett''s, the street''s largest bar/dancing club.
So Lewis decided to help things along. Last week, he inauguarated "McGarrett''s Party Bus," a chartered bus that made its virgin run last Thursday; starting this week, the bus will ferry CSUMB students between campus and McGarrett''s every Friday night. The bus starts at CSUMB around 9:15pm, picks up students at the bus-stops used by the campus shuttle system, and drops them outside McGarrett''s by 10:30pm. The return ride leaves McGarrett''s at 1:30am, when the club closes. Lewis charges $10 for the round trip, which includes entrance to his club and one drink.
The way Lewis figures it, he''s doing the kids a favor. "That campus is a long way out there," he notes. "A lot of students don''t have cars, and they shouldn''t drink and drive anyway." A one-way cab ride to downtown Monterey costs up to $20, including tip--a lot of money for students on a budget.
And by the way, Lewis is doing himself a favor, too. Although nothing''s stopping his passengers from getting off his bus and heading to another bar or club instead of to his joint, they''ve already paid the entrance fee to McGarrett''s--not to mention the cost of their first drink. To add to that inducement, Lewis is offering $1.75 prices on all well drinks and draft beers on "party bus" nights, "the same prices we offered 20 years ago," he says.
Sounds like a pretty good deal, and a smart business move. Other clubowners on the strip don''t mind it, either. "It''ll probably help more than hurt [my business]," says Sean Croce, co-owner of the Long Bar, right around the corner from McGarrett''s, and of Doc''s Nightclub on Cannery Row.
Croce runs a free late-night shuttle service for patrons back and forth between his two clubs, and he notes that neighboring bars enjoy the spillover. "I see people get out of my van and go right into Blue Fin or Sly McFly''s," he says. "They don''t necessarily go to my clubs." Nightspots near McGarrett''s will probably benefit the same way, he points out.
Viva Monterey owner Vince LaRocca has mixed feelings. "Of course I would want to have a bus bringing folks in," he says. "But it''s not something that''s appropriate for a bar to set up--for a school, connected with education, to have a ''bus to the bar.''"
Lewis'' bussing project has some folks wondering whether he''s plugging a hole the university ought to be filling. After all, there the students are, stuck out on a former army base, miles from the bright lights and big city, with precious little to do on Friday or Saturday night. Shouldn''t the university itself be sponsoring transportation to town?
It used to, says Holly White, CSUMB''s news and public information officer. When the school first opened, it contracted with Monterey Salinas Transit to ferry students back and forth to the Transit Center in downtown Monterey during daylight and early evening hours. That experiment lasted just about a year. "It was very expensive to run, and few people used it," White says.
There weren''t nearly as many students then, though. Now, with just under 2,000 students, and 65 to 75 percent of them living on campus, the need may be greater, she acknowledges. "I don''t know [for sure] whether there''s an increased need or desire," but adds that restoring some kind of university-subsidized transport system "is something we''ve long considered."
But a late-night bus service, specifically to get students to town for weekend partying? Not likely. "There''s no discussion of that that I''m aware of," she says. While the college isn''t actively discouraging students from taking the McGarrett''s party bus, "it''s not something we went out and solicited," she notes. "If our students choose to participate in it, that''s their choice."
Many other Cal State and U.C. schools do provide free bus service for their students, through special contracts with their local bus companies. At Cal State Chico, students, faculty and employees ride for free, thanks to an arrangement between the school and Chico Area Transit Systems.
That''s just part of what a university should do to help its students, says university spokesman Joe Wills. "A residential campus needs to provide transportation for its students, so they don''t need to have a car," he says.
U.C. Santa Cruz also makes sure its students ride for free to and from downtown, with a limitless bus pass issued for free to any student who wants one.
"We are very committed to alternative transportation," says Elizabeth Irwin, U.C.S.C director of public affairs. She notes that less than half of all trips to and from the U.C.S.C campus involve one person driving a car. "The students are much more dependent on public transportation," she says.
But neither U.C.S.C or Chico State provides bus service after 9 or 10pm. Chico State has a "Safe Rides" program, whereby any student can call up and get a free ride home from a bar or party. And, Irwin says, U.C.S.C has "lots of entertainment" on its own campus--in contrast to CSUMB--so students can usually find weekend fun within walking distance of home.
Not so at CSUMB, where on-campus nighttime recreation possibilities are slim indeed. "I thought we were isolated," marvels Beni Bennett at the university advancement office of Humboldt State, which does not sponsor free buses for its students but which, Bennett says, "has a very good public bus system" that services the campus until 9pm.
But nothing compares with CSUMB. "There aren''t any other campuses that come that close to isolation," he states.
So a university should provide a way for students to get off campus and into town, these administrators agree. But ferrying students back and forth to clubs, into the wee hours of the morning? Maybe not.
Croce agrees. "I can''t see how they could justify spending tax dollars to bring students into bars," says Croce, who attended San Diego State in the late ''80s, where no free bus service was offered. "If that works, I have a whole slew of ideas to throw at them!"
Students may disagree with him on that. Jason Spencer, a CSUMB junior who is helping Lewis advertise the party bus, and who will act as the Friday night DJ at McGarrett''s, says students want and need a late-night weekend bus.
"There is a need for it," he insists. "I''ve lived here six months, and there''s nothing to do out here."
CSUMB, he says, should "probably" provide such a service, "but they don''t like to promote drinking, they are real into the whole non-alcohol thing."
Not only is driving after drinking dangerous, but the penalties for CSUMB students--who have to drive through federal land, patrolled by federal officers, on their way back to campus--are more severe than usual. "They have nothing to do but bust you," Lewis notes.
Holly White notes that many CSUMB students are younger than the legal drinking age of 21, making the pool of available party bus-riders smaller than Lewis may think. The flyers for McGarrett''s bus announce "over 21 only, please," and although ID won''t be checked on the bus itself, riders will be carded carefully when they get to the club.
"If they''re not 21, they''re not getting in, and any friends they''re with who are over 21 will be pretty mad," says Jason Spencer, who adds that "some will probably hop on the bus just to get into town." cw