Tuesday, October 2, 2001

With the academic year comes the complaints about the so-called "drunk bus" in Storm Lake.

This is the familiar Rides bus contracted to ferry students at Buena Vista University back and forth to a couple of preferred local bars on a couple nights a week that night life traffic is particularly heavy.

Of course, the bus doesn't just chug up to the bar door, it coyly lets out a couple doors down. And while it can be noted that students ride to other places, like the movies or a department or grocery store, it isn't unfair in the big picture to term it the drunk bus. That is it's main reason for being.

The public complaining is both predictable and understandable.

Providing a bus to take students to drink is condoning or even encouraging alcoholism, some say.

Perhaps so. But frankly, we think the drunk bus is one of the best services provided in this community.

We know that sounds strange.

Honestly, if students are going to drink to excess, we would much rather have them coming back to their dorm safely on a bus than driving around on the streets of Storm Lake.

Many young people are going to drink, whether we like it or not. A few are going to drink to dangerous excess, regularly. A very small percantage is already on the way to a lifetime of alcoholism and despair by the time they set foot on a campus. One or two each year on an Iowa campus may be in danger of dying of alcohol poisoning before they ever get their degree. We do not make light of that very real binge drinking problem.

We would like to think that those who do choose to drink beyond a social level will find maturity, self respect and a healthy lifestyle at some stage. In the meantime, we might have to settle for just getting them back home in one piece on a Friday nights, to buy us some time to get to that point of self-realization.

BVU and its student groups have done a much improved job of trying to keep the students on campus over the weekends, from the welcome back Labor Day weekend events to the student block party just this past weekend. At times in the past, it has been practically a commuter campus, with the parking lots almost empty from Friday afternoon until Monday morning.

As we work to better integrate students as citizens of the community, we also have to realize that they need services and things to do in return.

Reality is that drinking - or more precisely, the socialization of blowing off some steam after a hard week of studies - is part of the mix.

It is a shame if the service of a drunk bus causes anyone to choose to drink who otherwise would not, but we doubt that happens much. It may cause some to drink more than they otherwise would, since they don't have to worry about getting arrested on the way back, and that is a legitimate worry.

Yet the drunk bus is the better of two alternatives - the other being to ignore the situation. If the bus keeps drunk drivers off the street where they will be a threat to their own safety and that of everyone else, roll that bus.

It is also important to note that the vast majority of BVU students are responsible. They aren't the only segment of the population where drinking problems arise, and in terms of arrests statistics per capita, they may be generally one of the best behaved groups you could separate out for scrutiny in Storm Lake.

People can criticize the bus, and they have their points. But if we are going to err, we should err on the side of safety. As far as we are concerned, the people who criticize the service would be better served to put a big "drunk bus" banner on that vehicle, and be proud that the BVU community is willing to make the tough choice to provide a service aimed at safety, not drunkenness.