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The future of Safe Rides and campus shuttles

From Safe Rides to campus shuttles, university students across the US and beyond deserve better campus transportation. Here’s a vision of what that future could look like.


Niklas Mey

Transportation doesn’t just allow people to get from A to B. It broadens their opportunities. In turn, a gap in adequate transit can limit those opportunities. And one such group currently facing the consequences of inadequate public transit is students.

A 2021 article from The Washington Post reported that university and college students who face transportation barriers are more likely to drop out of school than their counterparts who have sufficient mobility options. It also found that those barriers are disproportionately faced by students who are low-income or visible minorities.

What can be done to help overcome these challenges? We’ll get to that in a moment. First, let’s start by taking a closer look at what’s contributing to current transit gaps.

Current transit barriers faced by students

The same Washington Post article lists four primary transportation obstacles students are currently facing:

  1. Cost. In some cases, unaffordable transit can be just as much of a barrier to completing school as the cost of tuition. This isn’t an unlikely scenario, either: a 2021 study found that 17% of a student's entire college budget can go towards transportation alone.
  2. Stop locations. Many students report having to travel long distances to get to the nearest public transit stop or station.
  3. Transit schedules. Often, public transit is planned around the average commuter hours: 9 AM and 5 PM. But this doesn’t always match up with the schedule of a student, and they may not be able to get the transportation they need at the hours they need it.
  4. Reliability. Unreliable transit can result in chronic lateness for students, which can mean they miss class or are docked marks.

What kind of campus transportation do students need?

An additional and important obstacle is a lack of safe transportation. Students often keep odd hours — they might have a late class, be at the campus library until the small hours of the night, come home from a late work shift, or leave a campus party or event after dark.

Local transportation often doesn’t run at these times, or it runs very infrequently, forcing students to walk home if they’re unable to access a taxi or ride sharing service — and sometimes they may even end up stranded.

What can be done to start tackling these issues? Let’s take a look at what effective and efficient campus transportation might look like for students — with the above barriers in mind.

  • Affordability. The cost of transportation shouldn’t provide a barrier for students seeking education.
  • Accessibility. Stops should be easy to get to and located in areas convenient to students.
  • Frequency. Schedules should take into account the fact that students are coming and going from school throughout the day, not just at 9 AM and 5 PM.
  • Reliability. Transit should arrive on time so that students can reliably get to school on time.
  • Safety. Students should have safe mobility options even outside of fixed-route hours.

What are universities doing to help alleviate transportation struggles?

Luckily, initiatives are underway to improve student mobility options.

Some of these efforts are on behalf of municipal governments. For instance, in fall 2021, Los Angeles launched a pilot program providing community college students with unlimited Metro bus and train rides without charge.

But schools are also stepping in to launch transit projects that will help their students travel better and more safely.

Discounted local transportation

For instance, students at Rio Hondo College in California received the GO RIO pass in 2021, which provided them with free transportation for the school year. According to a report by the school, this pass has increased the number of students who stay enrolled, as well as the number of credits completed and credentials earned.

Campus shuttles

Campus shuttles offer university students transportation to and from their school, as well as transportation within the campus. They can provide a more efficient alternative to general public transit, which may make multiple stops en route. Shuttles are also sometimes the only transportation option for campuses located in rural areas or on private lands that don’t have the existing public roads or infrastructure necessary for public transit.

Fun fact: Berry College in Georgia has a 27,000-acre campus. That’s twice the size of Manhattan! Not exactly a campus you can get from one end to the other in between classes. Luckily, they offer a campus shuttle program.

Safe rides

“Safe Rides” is a program offered by many schools in the US, allowing students to request a pick-up from campus to their home (or vice versa) if they’re traveling alone, after dark, or in other circumstances that feel unsafe.

What is the future of safe rides and campus shuttles?

While these initiatives certainly move the needle in the right direction, they can have their own obstacles. Campus shuttle schedules may be difficult to find, while Safe Ride programs can experience low engagement rates because they often require students to call a dispatcher or have long wait times.

To ensure their transit programs are as effective as possible, and to maximize the number of students who benefit from them, many schools are turning to mobility management software, such as Spare, that allows them to launch their own on-demand transit services for students.

Let’s take a look at how using a software-as-a-service (SaaS) company to manage their campus-based transit services can help schools address the key needs of commuting students.

Affordability

Rather than spend money on acquiring their own fleet, schools can leverage the fleets of third-party mobility providers to power their shuttles or safe ride programs. This lowers operational costs, allowing schools to offer students cheaper transit. For instance, Spare’s partnership with Lyft allows schools to offer Lyft-powered rides that are bookable through their own campus app. Once again, the school ultimately retains control of the service being offered — even without owning its own fleet.

On the other hand, If a school has been running a dial-a-ride program and already owns its own fleet, it can continue using that fleet but leverage the technology provided by the SaaS company that allows them to offer app-based, on-demand services. In this case, they can also rely on third-party vehicles — say if there is a spike in demand that their fleet isn’t able to manage — allowing the school to guarantee service.

Frequency

Many SaaS companies make it simple for administrators to derive insight from the data it generates, allowing them to make informed decisions about their services — such as when peak hours are, how many vehicles you need to service those hours, and popular routes and pick-up/drop-off spots.

Capitalizing on mobility software, schools can also implement the ability for students to request a trip when needed as opposed to relying on a rigid schedule.

Reliability

App-based bookings allow students to book and manage trips on their own through your campus app or website. This means they can access travel when they need it.

On-demand solutions also allow students to simply input their location and get picked up right where they are. This is a big consideration in terms of accessibility — as many students are unable to travel to fixed-route bus stops. It also allows students to request the type of transportation they need. For example, if they need a wheelchair-accessible vehicle.

Enabling students with mobility issues or special needs the ability to travel with the confidence that the service provided will meet their needs is a key component of building inclusive campuses.

Safety

Giving students real-time information about their trips allows them to travel more safely. Instead of calling a dispatcher and waiting around for a ride to show up, a student can see exactly how long it will take for their ride to arrive and wait in safety. In addition, these days students are simply more used to modern services that are app-based and on-demand.

Schools can also ensure that students are receiving rides from drivers that have been thoroughly vetted.

In addition, addressing all of the other above concerns simply makes it more likely that a student will rely on on-campus transit services instead of turning to less safe means of getting around.

App-powered Safe Rides in action: CSU RamRide

In 2003, Colorado State University (CSU) founded its Safe Ride program, RamRide. Since then, it has become a national leader among other Safe Ride programs.

Using the RamRide app, students can request rides around Fort Collins, Colorado on Fridays and Saturdays from 10 PM to 3 AM, ensuring that students have safe travel options outside of normal transit hours.

While CSU decides how the services work – the hours, service zone, costs, etc. — their app is powered by Spare, and students can book an on-demand RamRides ride just as easily as they would an Uber.

In 2020, 26.1% of students who started college in fall 2019 didn’t return for a second year. This was, in large part, due to the pandemic. However, it’s a large number that isn’t expected to decrease any time soon.

Inadequate transportation shouldn’t contribute to that number, as there are solutions out there to help students get safely and efficiently to and from school. And app-based solutions, such as Spare, can play a role in helping campuses enact affordable, accessible, reliable, and safe travel options for students.


Are you a university representative in the market 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. We’re looking forward to hearing from you!