For those of us that either want to kick it late in San Francisco or have to work late there, it takes at least an hour or $50 bucks to get ourselves back home to Oakland. That’s about to change. Beginning this Friday, May 23rd, Night School will bring those yellow school busses out into the moonlight and put them to use circulating passengers across the bridge.
Night School is launching an initial Friday- and Saturday-only route that goes between the Mission (18th & Valencia) and Downtown Oakland (17th & Telegraph) every 25 minutes from midnight to 4am. However, they plan to expand service once passengers fill out data on where they’re going by suggesting a route through the app. “Before long, we’re hoping to build a route that makes it like BART never stopped running,” said Seth Capron, Oakland resident and co-founder of Night School, along with his old friend Alex Kaufman.
“The existing transit options are either really expensive- not to mention ecologically harmful- cab services or else inconsistent and potentially unsafe bus options,” said Capron.
Night School, on the other hand, stops in the exact place where demand is highest, employs a conductor as well as a driver to optimize safety, and features real-time, gps schedules. “The first thing you see when you open the app is a countdown to the next bus. So you can plan around that, that’s a real number.”
Capron and Kaufman developed the idea for Night School after discovering that lobbying for late-night BART service was completely futile. “There’s no 24-hr trains system that doesn’t have a secondary rail to ride while the other undergoes regular maintenance. So, [because BART only has one rail] they would have to create a whole new tunnel to build another rail across the Bay,” said Capron. “It’s not going to happen.”
But, because bus services have much lower overhead costs than trains and better ability to flexibly respond to data, they can accommodate the small and unpredictable night-life market. It will still be more convenient for many to use the AC transit bus, but Capron and Kaufman believe there are plenty of people looking for a better option.
Capron is mindful that the context of gentrification has implications for Night School. As a privatized competitor with public transit, it’s inevitable that Night School will be compared with the Google busses.
To this, Capron points out that Night School is different in the most important way: there’s no restricted access. “This will be a more economical option for everyone.” They predict that just as many hospitality workers, janitors, and security guards will be riding as party-goers, and point out that you don’t need a smartphone to ride. Lastly, Capron added, “The reality is that most drunk driving accidents happen between two and three a.m. There’s a transit gap that needs to be filled.”
For now, tickets are sold on a membership basis. $19 gets you a monthly unlimited pass. However, there’s a promotional $12/month deal right now. Individual tickets will be available in the future.
Night School is donating 5% of their net profits to Greater Oakland Public Schools Leadership Center. The original idea was to benefit OUSD by renting the school busses directly from them. When it turned out that OUSD doesn’t own their busses, Capron and Kaufman developed the partnership with GOPSLC instead.
“I’ve never liked the idea of having an app start-up, you know where you’re trying to get people to click ad banners or whatever,” said Capron. He sees the app merely as the interface tool of Night School, “but the real function is transit.” As an Urbanist, an Environmentalist, and resident of the Bay, Night School just seemed like the perfect solution to a pressing problem.