It’s midnight on a Friday, and University if Kansas freshman Suzi DeLay is on her way back home. Not able to drive, she pulls out her phone and taps on the SafeRide app. Her wait time? Anywhere between 10-40 minutes.
SafeRide, a university program contracted through First Transit, picks up students from anywhere in Lawrence and takes them home any time between 10:30 p.m. and 2:30 a.m. seven days of the week. All students have to do is provide their KU ID and schedule a ride either by calling the SafeRide number or through the KU SafeRide app.
SafeRide started in 1986 “to decrease drunk driving and to provide a safe way home for all students,” according to the website. It has come and gone since then but has existed in its current form since 1989.
“We do SafeRide to cover late night transportation needs for students- such as going to the library, bars and other events,” Student Transportation Coordinator Saige Killion said.
The main complaint about SafeRide is the wait time, which can vary greatly according to passengers and drivers. Currently, there is no data available regarding wait times.
SafeRide driver Brady Stoy said some students will book rides before they are ready to go, resulting in a driver getting “no showed” after waiting five minutes at the pickup location.
“It’s not a service to book a ride in advance. You book the ride for now and we tell you how long it’s going to be,” Stoy said.
In order to determine how many drivers work on a certain day of the week, which is a factor in wait time, SafeRide uses ridership statistics from previous semesters to determine how many drivers are assigned.
For example, based on ridership data from previous semesters, the program added a fourth driver on Sundays.
SafeRide drivers average 20 to 30 rides a night, according to an email from Transit Analyst for KU Parking and Transit Margretta de Vries, but those rides are not always spread out evenly. Instead, there may be a sudden influx of calls after a certain time which may increase wait times.
“We might [be] quiet for an hour or two where every driver would have only picked up only one or two people and then all of a sudden...we have 50 calls that just came in and we’re really busy for two hours,” Stoy said.
According to de Vries, no more than 10 drivers are assigned on any given night. This is the most the SafeRide budget can do, because there are 11 vehicles in the fleet.
“That’s just what we’re able to do with [the] budget,” Killion said. “We’ve been able to purchase that many vehicles and pay the drivers. Since it’s not a for-profit business, there is only so much service we can provide.”
SafeRide actively takes initiative to improve wait times without adding new drivers.
“To improve wait times, we traditionally don’t add more drivers, we try to improve efficiency,” Stoy said.
One way of doing this, according to Stoy, is stacking calls that are from similar locations, and going to locations that are close to each other.
“[It’s] similar to buses: don’t send out another bus, but try to make a more efficient route,” Stoy said.
Students can download the SafeRide app for free, or call 785-864-7233 to use the service.
—Edited by Brianna Wessling