TNH rides along with new weekend transportation alternative
Published: Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 22, 2013 02:10
Saturday night in Durham. Madbury Road is teeming with clumps of naïve freshmen, exploring their newly-found freedom. The police are parked alongside the road, ready to take down the next drunk driver or walker. Safe Rides is making its singular route to pick up students over and over, all across campus. And the rest of town is just along for the ride.
But there’s a new mix to be added to the bunch: a trio of guys chugging around campus on weekend nights and stuffing students into their used vans, but in a good way.
Avram Niebling, a recent UNH graduate, Derek Swenson, a UNH senior anthropology major, and Bobby Berwick, a childhood friend of Niebling, are the trio more commonly known as Campus Rides – a weekend evening “taxi” services that works solely off of tips, driving students around Durham and beyond. Other locations include Dover, Newmarket and Portsmouth.
As of Aug. 28, the team was open for business, operating weekend nights, Thursday through Saturday, from 7 p.m. until 2 a.m.
The team has a cell phone just for Campus Rides as well as a notebook. The rides are numbered, along with the number of passengers, the pick-up location and at least six digits of the phone number.
“That’s unique enough,” Neibling said.
THE FIRST NIGHT
“I just had absolutely no idea how it would catch on,” Niebling said. He explained that it was just himself, a van and a phone that first night.
“I had … no idea whether anyone would call or not. I didn’t get any calls till like 9:30 [to] 10 [p.m.],” he said. “[I] went out, did a couple, and then like at 11 [to] 11:15 [p.m.] started getting crushed with calls.”
The rides were so crowded that two days later he bought another van and started to expand. He called on Swenson and Berwick and the rest is history.
“It was pretty, pretty exciting, from the first riders,” Niebling said.
ANY REGULAR WEEKEND NIGHT
Now almost eight weeks into the semester, weekends are like clockwork. Around 9:30 p.m. on a weekend night, calls start picking up.
Students call for rides particularly from the Cottages and more off-campus locations.
“I can get to and from the Cottages … because of such a cheap fare,” student Christian Young said. He is a frequent rider of Campus Rides, so much so that his number is saved in the Campus Rides phone.
“I live in the Cottages and a lot of those people there wouldn’t be able to come to campus without [Campus Rides], or at least in a safe manner, and these guys really do help us all out,” Young said.
Inside the van, music bumps to the rhythm of the night. Music of choice is generally Swenson’s Outkast CD, played on repeat, but that can change depending on who is driving.
“This is really just a great service,” student Brian Lowell said. “So much better than Safe Rides … especially to the Portsmouth bars.”
It is around 12:30 a.m. and the phone calls start to pick up. The van fills to the brim with inebriated students. Piles of people seem to tumble into the car, all rowdy and screaming drunken profanities: some about their love for Swenson, some about their uncontrollable hunger and some unpublishable in a college newspaper.
Both Niebling and Swenson seem unfazed by the noise. Their driving is impeccable.
Swenson claims to have a perfect driving record apart from a small blemish at age 17, “I learned my lesson,” he said.
To the police, they’re a team.
“We seem to have a pretty good relationship,” Niebling said. “[We’re on] the same team but we don’t communicate at all.”
The vans have been pulled over before.
“You drive so much that you’re bound to make a couple mistakes … but nothing ever bad,” he said.
Niebling remembers a time when he was pulled over by the police with students inside.
“They obviously see our vans chugging around all over town … they instantly realize.”
RISE TO FAME
Back in the van, both Swenson and Niebling continue to take calls while their passengers tell stories of the night and of Campus Ride’s miraculous saving skills.
“This is the solution right here, you know, we’re in it,” sophomore Josiah Driscoll said.
“You know, we’re about it and they [Campus Rides] are all about it too.”
But ask the constant flow of students, and no one seemed to know where Campus Rides came from.
“Um, I heard about them from a friend” seems to be the general consensus. But it was actually the crafty marketing skills of Niebling who worked to print and hand out flyers during the first week of classes.
“I guess my friend was, like, call Campus Rides,” student Faith Matejik said. She is another frequent rider whose name is saved in the phone.
“I call a lot,” she said.
Niebling is usually co-pilot next to either Berwick or Swenson.