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How universities are increasing student safety with on-demand services

Safe transportation for students plays a huge role in graduation rates and student experience on campus. Here’s how on-demand mobility services are helping universities provide safe and reliable rides for students.


Joshua Bethel

Traveling to and from campus, parties, or other events late at night or on weekends is common for students. It is an integral part of campus life.

University and college students who face transportation barriers are more likely to drop out of school than their counterparts who have enough mobility options, according to The Washington Post. These barriers are especially prominent for students who are low-income or visible minorities.

In this post, we’ll take a closer look at the current state of safety in student transportation, why Safe Rides programs matter, and how university administrators can use on-demand software to provide their students with safe and reliable rides.


Safety concerns with public transit and campus transportation


When it comes to student transportation, security involves the measures put in place to ensure that students are safe whether they are traveling on campus, attending an off-campus event, or coming home from a party.

Safe transportation extends beyond the experience of the rider when they’re on board a service vehicle. It includes factors like access to transit stops and long wait times.

The longer the journey to and from a bus or campus shuttle stop, the more a student’s exposure to potential risk. Even students who live near public transit hubs may find themselves making multiple transfers or taking long walks to/from stops if they’re relying on a limited night service.


The same is true for long wait times, especially in isolated areas. The more time a student spends waiting for transit or shuttles to arrive, the larger the window for risk.

In 2018, the Melbourne School of Design conducted a survey across sixteen cities around the world to determine the safety of public transit for post-secondary students.

Their report found that:

  • Just under half (45.1%) of students who identified as female said that they “rarely” or “never” feel safe on public transport after dark.
  • Almost three in five (58.9%) of female students said they try to reduce their risk of victimization aboard public transit, including avoiding certain lines and stops, ensuring they are met at certain stops, and being constantly on alert.
  • Just under half (45.4%) of female students report fear of victimization as a reason for not using public transport.
  • Almost four-fifths (79.4%) of female students and an equivalent proportion of LGBTI+ students said they had been victimized on public transport.
  • Over half (51.7%) of students who identified as male reported having been victimized.

The perception and lack of safety for students in real life demonstrates a corresponding lack of security policies that take into account students relying on public transportation, especially after dark. As the report shows, these safety concerns lead to students avoiding public transit.

Safe Rides Programs: Creating a safe transportation experience

Statistics like the above are a big part of why many Universities across the US and beyond have implemented some form of a Safe Rides program.

Safe Rides programs allow students to request a ride to or from campus. They typically operate at night, on the weekends, and within a specific service zone around campus. They often operate with help from student volunteers who drive school-owned vehicles.

While Safe Rides programs are often launched as a solution to support disabled students, this on-demand transit service has evolved in response to changing needs of students. Many universities provide students with safe transportation options that offer more accessibility and connectivity — for instance, helping students run daily errands like going to the grocery store or library.

Challenges facing Safe Rides programs

While Safe Rides can help, they also face their own challenges. Colorado State University’s  (CSU)’s Safe Rides program called “RamRides”, facilitates safe transportation by providing students with private or shared, on-demand rides.

Students can book a ride when they need it and don’t have to worry about the risks of being on public transit with strangers or waiting a long time for a bus to arrive. However, faced with limited fleets and a driver pool, Safe Rides programs often struggle to meet the rider demand or to provide the extent of services they’d like to.

Lindsay Mason, Director of Off-Campus Life at CSU in Fort Collins, says their RamRides programs faced several challenges such as:

  • Driver shortages. Previously, all RamRides drivers were student volunteers.  Last-minute cancellations were fairly common if students had to call in sick or were unable to show up due to their own unpredictable schedules.
  • Constant onboarding. Each new volunteer has to be trained as a RamRides driver. And because many students would volunteer on a one-time basis, large amounts of time were devoted to training new drivers.
  • Limited service hours. Relying on a small team of volunteers meant that RamRides was only able to offer services on Friday and Saturday nights from 10 pm - 3 am, leaving students without a Safe Rides option for most of the week.
  • Limited fleet. Relying on a modest, school-owned fleet restricted RamRides’ service area, meaning commuter students who lived outside the Fort Collins area were unable to access the service.
  • Long wait times. With a limited fleet, the “on-demand” aspect of the service is also limited as there may be more demand than there are drivers to meet it.

These challenges are not unique to one university, rather most transport providers face similar issues related to fleet management and driver shortage.

How on-demand SERVICES ARE improving Safe Rides programs

More and more universities are responding to the need for safe and reliable student transportation by partnering with on-demand service providers that are easy to use for administrators, and offer students a new way of accessing transportation in and around campus.

Let’s look at how RamRides solved the challenges with its Safe Rides program by integrating its services with Spare’s rider app, allowing CSU students to book on-demand rides from their phones.

RamRide's student-facing app


Keep operational costs low with demand-responsive technology

Acquiring and maintaining a large fleet is expensive. And if demand is not consistently high, then the investment might not make financial sense. However, planners want to be able to ensure services will be available to riders when they need them — not just during peak hours.

This is where partnerships between mobility management software like Spare and Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) like Lyft can help.


Planners can maintain a small fleet to service peak hours, and when demand outpaces the abilities of their fleet, they can tap into Lyft to help service that demand. Mixed fleet solutions like this are typically much cheaper for planners than growing the size of their own fleet.

Alternatively, services like RamRides that rely on volunteers can use their own drivers for peak hours and rest assured that Lyft will be there to service trip requests if there is demand during off-peak periods.

The mixing of RamRides and Lyft fleets has allowed RamRides to expand their operating hours, ensuring that students always have the option of a private, on-demand ride when they need one. However, the service is no longer just about providing students rides when they’re in a pinch.

Streamline bookings for students

If a Safe Rides program is relying on mixed fleet services to meet demand, they can greatly streamline the rider experience by using mobility management software to consolidate their services.

If the Safe Rides provider isn’t able to confirm their trip, the student can pick another option from the same place instead of having to check multiple apps.

Decrease admin time of Safe Rides administrators

The people employed by academic institutions to manage Safe Rides programs are there to advocate for student development, positive learning experiences, and education accessibility — not to maintain software.

Mobility planning solutions can be a big help in this respect. Not only do they seamlessly integrate the existing infrastructure of a Safe Rides program into a user-friendly app for students, they also have customer support teams who are there to work with planners to ensure that their programs are a success. This includes ensuring a positive user experience, both for riders and drivers, and also helps planners make data-driven service decisions.

For instance, RamRides is now able to gather insight about riders they couldn’t previously access. Like places that are hot pick-up or drop-off spots in the city, where students are most likely to go during off-peak hours, whether there are unexpected peak hours they weren’t previously aware of, and so on.

Receive real-time feedback from students

The best time to gather feedback about a transportation service at scale is right after a ride has been completed. The experience is fresh in the rider’s mind, and they can be prompted to provide feedback right in the app. Collecting rider feedback allows Safe Rides planners to develop and improve their services with their students in mind.

In addition, student feedback can help ensure that services are inclusive and accessible for marginalized communities. As Lindsay Mason puts it, “If a service serves those who are most marginalized, then it serves everyone.”

Understanding the rider experience and implementing specific security policies with marginalized students in mind is a crucial part of ensuring safety for all.

Just like CSU, universities across North America and beyond have an opportunity to respond to changing student needs by providing a safe rider experience with support from on-demand mobility providers like Spare.

If you are a university representative looking for a software solution to help redesign your safe rides program, Connect with one of our Spare team members for a live demo today or drop us a line at hello@sparelabs.com to find out why we’re so passionate about building a safer, better future for campus transportation.