It’s 9:30 p.m. Students scream “Ring Out Ahoya” after a Friday night basketball game while zipping down Wisconsin Avenue in a LIMO. The LIMO’s driver, Beth Esmay, maps out a route to make sure students, singing or not, get to their destinations.
This is a typical LIMO shift for Esmay, which can last up to ten hours.
“I’ve had a lot of drunken conversations with people,” Esmay said, sharing the crazy moments of her job. “You’ll get vans full of people singing at the top of their lungs. That and Halloween, just Halloween in general. It’s a little bit terrifying.”
Esmay, a junior in the College of Health Sciences, is just one of many student LIMO drivers who together served about 300,000 students last year.
This high amount of traffic can seem surprising, considering the common opinion of students that LIMOs are slow.
“I don’t utilize the LIMO service as often as I would like to because when it comes to a choice between getting home late without having to worry about my surroundings and getting home quickly, but having to be alert, I’m going to chose to get home as soon as I can,” said Anne Marie Matelski, a sophomore in the College of Health Sciences. “And I feel that LIMOs simply can’t provide that.”
Sgt. Daniel Kolosovsky, manager of student safety programs, said this perception of LIMOs being unreasonably slow is incorrect.
“What a lot of people don’t understand is that there are several things over which we have no control: the weather, traffic, events and the users of the program,” Kolosovsky said. “Ironically, of the ones I mentioned, the biggest drag is (students) who don’t know how to use the program correctly.”
Ben Fate, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences, has been a LIMO driver since March 2013. He said he believes students create much of the perceived LIMO wait time themselves.
“It might seem like we’re taking forever, but if you think about the fact that we give maybe seven to eight minutes to each call, give yourself that much time to wait,” Fate said. He explained many students miss their requested LIMOs, think that the service is slow and then call back for a second pickup.
HOW LIMOS OPERATE
LIMO services, dating back to fall 1986, include three parts. The blue vans are a door-to-door service that can be requested at any location within the LIMOs boundaries. The white express vans follow two circuits on Wisconsin Avenue, one on Kilbourn Avenue and the other on Wells Street, which takes about 12 minutes to complete. The third part is the Student Safety Patrol, made up of student workers who walk people to their destinations.
Drivers are required to stop for about 15 to 30 seconds at specific points around campus, including the residence halls, Raynor Memorial Library, Humphrey Hall, the 16th Street Parking Structure (where the DPS office is located) and “Shamu” (the lot between the Alumni Memorial Union and Schroeder Hall).
Requests for LIMOs go to a dispatcher—usually one student on duty—and take about one minute to be processed and to reach drivers. Drivers then must play a delicate game: keeping open calls in mind as they map out their routes.
After a call becomes “stale,” or has been open for more than six or seven minutes, dispatchers will begin to prod LIMO drivers to pick up pending students.
“Something (DPS) very much pushes during your trainings is a thing called ‘mapping,’” Fate explained. “You’ll be listening for the calls that are open, the people who have requested a LIMO but haven’t gotten one yet, and the people who are on your van. So you’re constantly switching your route based on where you need to drop people off and pick people up.”
The time it takes for a LIMO to answer a call and pick someone up can vary widely.
“That whole process for a call to get out might take 1-3 minutes,” Esmay said. “For someone to claim it, it really depends on where they are. They could be right in front of the door, or the LIMOs could be on opposite ends of campus. It could be anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes for a wait.”
SO WHAT’S THE DELAY?
Extenuating circumstances can also lead to LIMO delays. Firetrucks or ambulances blocking streets, extreme pedestrian traffic at The Rave events or even severe weather conditions can all slow — or even completely stop — LIMOs.
“There’s times when we go 5 mph because of how bad the weather is,” Kolosovsky said.
As noted earlier, though, LIMO drivers cite students who do not understand the system as the main problem.
For example, students often call for rides at the designated LIMO stops noted earlier. Calling a LIMO at such locations is largely unnecessary because one will eventually stop there to pick up any waiting students.
Also, certain hotspots, like the LIMO stop locations, will have large amounts of students who want to take a LIMO and will likely lead to a slower, more crowded riding experience.
“(LIMOs are) always going to get loaded up at Raynor, so it’s going to be a rough ride,” said Esmay.
With a capacity of 13 passengers for regular LIMOs and 12 for expresses, drivers have to move quickly to be able to handle the large amounts of student traffic each night, ranging anywhere from 700 to 3,000 students. Weekend nights, event nights or simply nights with poor weather, may see even more requests.
“There’s tons of thinking and tons of communication; it’s a very delicate balance,” Fate said. “You have to have it just right for things to even work at 80 percent of what they could be.”
THE DEAL BEHIND THE WHEEL
In order to get things as close to “just right” as possible, potential LIMO drivers go through a rigorous training process.
Fate explained a driver goes through three steps to become a LIMO driver.
Step 1: Students must complete three safety patrol shifts, each three hours long, to learn about the program itself and things like how to work the radio. Kolosovsky said he believes this step is very important to the process of becoming a LIMO driver.
“Safety patrol is not entry level: it’s foundational,” Kolosovsky said. “Everybody get’s qualified to be a safety patrol.”
Step 2: Drivers are tested before entering three five-hour driving shifts, observing for the first half of each shift before becoming the driver. On the fourth night, usually a weekend, the new driver is only being observed and is largely on his or her own.
Step 3: If the fourth night goes well, that driver is again tested to become a full, solo driver.
This test covers content including radio knowledge and campus layout and procedures. This completes the training process, which by the end amounts to more than 40 hours. These high training requirements mean that LIMOs are always hiring in order to train new drivers. Ten prospective drivers are currently on their way to becoming LIMO-ready.
This long, arduous training process provides a service unique to Marquette.
“You have a system here at Marquette that I don’t think any other university has, (and) if they do, it’s just a small part of what we have and that’s door-to-door service,” said Kolosovsky. “Most universities are on a loop, or a route, like the expresses.”
Student Safety Programs developed the Blue Prints for Success program, available online, in order to show interested universities some guidelines on how to run an effective system similar to that of the Marquette LIMO service.
Kolosovsky said Student Safety conducted a study with other universities. Despite Marquette’s door-to-door transportation service, which is generally slower than loop services (and safer because students exiting the vehicles are closer to their destinations), LIMOs tend to be much faster than programs on other campuses.
“At University of Wisconsin, it’s a 45 minute to an hour and a half wait … but with no door-to-door service,” Kolosoksky said. “It’s hard to compare.”
‘STUDENT SAFETY, NOT STUDENT SPEEDY’
Kolosovsky said an important factor to consider when dealing with LIMO services is that the drivers are students. This is something Kolosovsky said he believes many people tend to forget.
Both Esmay and Fate have dealt with drunk or disgruntled passengers, but they said they still strive to uphold a foundational principal of the LIMO program: professionalism.
“The ideal situation would be if everyone knew how the program works, but unfortunately that’s almost impossible,” Fate said. He said he wants to transport students as quickly as possible, but some students add more complication than necessary.
“They only say two things on the phone: have you ID ready and be waiting, and if you’re doing both, you’re guaranteed to be on your LIMO pretty fast,” Fate added.
Kolosovsky said he believes there is little else that can be done to increase LIMO efficiency. Even suggestions of GPS tracking merely show a LIMO’s location, but would not provide other details, like how full it is.
Still, Kolosovsky said he hopes to better inform students in order to make things run more smoothly. Above all, Kolosovsky stressed safety.
“It’s student safety, not student speedy,” Kolosovsky said. “People can look at statistics and … they don’t see the whole picture. We’re really doing what we need to do.”
Click here to see a Marquette Student Media video about students who are designing a completely electric LIMO.