It’s Thursday, 10 p.m. and there is already someone puking out the window of Bill’s Bus.
“I love Bill’s Bus!” exclaims an inebriated UCSB student.
As he waits in line to board the shuttle, he takes a swig from a water bottle filled to the brim with a strong-smelling clear liquid.
“Dude, I’ve hooked up with so many fine girls coming back from downtown,” fifth-year history major Jason Behr says, bragging to his friends. “It’s like the perfect hookup spot.”
He gestures towards a group of scantily clad blondes in stilettos.
“I’ve already got my eye on them.”
Although the service was first created in the hopes of deterring Isla Vista residents from driving downtown under the influence, Bill’s Bus is best known for the debauchery that happens within the four walls of the jam-packed bus. Fights, hookups and projectile vomiting are just part of the story.
According to Santa Barbara City College student Bryan Carlson, the service is not just a convenient way to get downtown — time spent on Bill’s Bus is part of the whole experience.
“So what I normally do on a Thursday night is start drinking at my house, that’s my pre-pre-game,” Carlson said. “Then I get on Bill’s Bus and that’s the pre-game. The driver always has great music playing so it’s super legit. Then I get downtown and go to a couple bars and I’m pretty close to being shit-faced. By the time I get back on Bill’s Bus to head back home, that’s the after party.”
Erika Johnson, a fourth-year communication and political science major, said she is no stranger to the drunken revelry that often occurs on Bill’s Bus.
“The craziest experience I had was with me and my boyfriend at the time, we met these two random guys who bought us a fifth of tequila that we poured into a coffee cup,” Johnson said. “We drank the entire fifth on the way downtown. It was definitely a forgettable night because we all blacked out.”
According to Bill’s Bus owner and operator Craig Jenkins, who also owns Velvet Jones, the service was created by Bill Singer in 1991 after someone close to him died in a drunk driving accident. Singer collected enough money to start a business that would help deter Isla Vista residents from driving downtown under the influence.
“Something happened in his life, his brother or some family member was killed by a drunk driver,” Jenkins said. “I remember he went ahead and got a little bit of funding. He bought one bus and charged $3 round trip. The business grew and grew and he got a few partners along the way.”
With the founder facing several problems, including trouble with acquiring licenses and a business partner that had been convicted of a DUI, Jenkins bought the business in 2003.
“He decided that it wasn’t going to run anymore,” Jenkins said. “It was too much money and too much liability. That’s when he decided to sell it to me, so the bus never actually stopped service. The bus just changed hands to me.”
Jenkins said that somewhere between 200 and 500 people use the $10 round-trip service on Thursday nights, and close to 100 people every Friday and Saturday.
“I’m really excited that kids use it year after year,” Jenkins said. “We don’t really do any advertising except for local radio stations. The service spreads through word of mouth. Most of them are really grateful for the service and I’m glad that they’re smart enough to use the service.”
Bill’s Bus opened its doors to the under-21 crowd in 2007 when it started running on Wednesdays to drop off students at Zodos and Old Town Tavern in Goleta.
Although the university used to fund Wednesday night bus rides, students are now responsible for the $5 fee.
“When it started out a couple of years ago it was free because the university was paying for it,” Jenkins said. “But then the university didn’t want to pay anymore, so now the kids pay $5 round trip.”
Jenkins, who often drives one of the ten buses himself, said he couldn’t think of any “notable” stories besides the typical drunken college student behavior.
“I don’t see about 85 percent of it,” Jenkins said. “When I’m driving I have my back towards them and the music is up. It’s usually just a lot of late-night hookups, like the last ditch effort to hook up with whoever before you get home. There’s a lot of stuff with kids getting sick, we catch girls doing stuff to guys they probably shouldn’t be doing on the bus, kids will pee out the window.”
Bill’s Bus picks up partygoers headed downtown every Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights beginning at 9:30 p.m. The service begins at 10 p.m. on Wednesdays.