April 30, 2009

Bus Ensures Safety of Drunken ‘M.E.S.S.’

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For sororities, fraternities and other student organizations, planning an off-campus event can be a hassle — getting price quotes from busses, organizing directions to the event and supervising the event not only inside but also on the bus. Within the last year, Matthew Kochman ’09 has attempted to solve some of these problems.
Last fall, Kochman created M.E.S.S. Express, which is committed to ensuring student safety while traveling to social events, and has become an alternative to traditional booking procedures for student groups in off-campus trips.
M.E.S.S. Express was the product of Kochman’s eagerness to go to bars beyond Collegetown but avoid any drunk driving.
“When I had to approach the city for permits there was a safety overtone to [M.E.S.S. Express] — bringing students in a bus downtown and then back to Cornell,” Kochman explained. “It brought a good cause to a social theme.”
When Kochman first started the company, he researched Ithaca’s regulations in order to ensure compliance with any local laws.
“I asked the [city] attorney, who scoured the city code and found a bylaw that stated that common carriers cannot operate on city streets without a permit,” Kochman explained.
The law, which had never been enforced before, had been on the books for about 30 years.
“Now that the city attorney had thought about it, they had us apply for the permit,” Kochman said.
Common Council member Svante Myrick ’09, helped Kochman apply for the permits.
“When [Kochman] started the business he saw the law and came to the council and needed help getting the permits. He had everything he needed, I just helped him get it done and spoke on his behalf at the Common Council meetings,” Myrick explained.
According to Myrick, despite the fact that M.E.S.S. Express received the permit, the ordinance is still not enforced.
“Our police force honestly doesn’t have the time or motivation to enforce this law,” Myrick said.
Since Kochman started M.E.S.S. Express — and did not experience the success he wanted — the business has shifted and has experienced increased success. They are booked solid for the next few weekends, according to Kochman.
M.E.S.S. Express does not own busses, but the company charters busses. Kochman and his team get price quotes, deal with navigation and provide sober monitors for the bus, plus they decorate the bus and play music to foster a fun environment.
Having sober monitors on the bus was appealing to the Common Council.
“[Having sober monitors] is not in the law, but it made everyone more sympathetic to his project. He has a sober driver in addition to two adults who won’t be drinking for the entire trip,” Myrick said.
Erica Brophy ’10 is one of Kochman’s three employees and works as VP Brand Development.
“At this point we do a lot of team work, our roles are not completely differentiated,” Brophy stated in an e-mail. “I have spent a lot of time developing the brand, coming up with marketing strategies, brainstorming ideas for events, making advertisements.”
In terms of being a sober monitor, Brophy works alongside another employee and stays on the bus during events like sorority crush parties, formals and wine tours making sure nothing goes wrong and assisting people who may have drank too much.
Having sobers on the bus has been unusual in the past at many events, according to Kochman, who noticed that at these events the sober monitors all stay at the event, and no one is monitoring what’s happening on the bus. M.E.S.S. Express takes care of this discrepancy by providing trash bags and helping sick students.
Kochman, who will be graduating in December, plans on staying in Ithaca until May 2010 to work on his company and it’s current expansion.
Kochmn also started up M.E.S.S. Express at University of Miami, from which Kochman transferred.
“In Miami, from campus to South Beach is a 25-minute ride and 45 dollar taxi ride each way. It’s ridiculous. So what we do is work with a marketing company in Miami who does club promoting, so the clubs pay for all the bussing, and we provide shuttle services from campus to South Beach and back. It helps combat the drinking and driving,” Kochman explained.
M.E.S.S. Express is also starting up at Ithaca College, and by next May Kochman aims to have M.E.S.S. Express at Syracuse and Binghamton.