SafeRide struggles to stretch resources to meet demand

Thursday, February 8, 2018 - 4:58pm

It’s not uncommon for University of Michigan students to spend late nights studying at the University’s many libraries.  That’s why free university-sponsored transportation services like Campus SafeRide are designed to take students, faculty, and staff where they need to be after-hours. But this service created to bring students home safely at late hours can sometimes leave them waiting longer than expected.


The SafeRide system depends on four drivers Sunday through Thursday, and three on Fridays and Saturdays. SafeRide encourages the use of their app, which automatically assigns a destination to the most launchable driver. If students call, drivers manually record the necessary information.


Some University of Michigan users have reported waiting to be picked up by SafeRide times significantly longer than the service advertises. A source from SafeRide who requested to remain anonymous indicated wait times are generally 15-20 minutes. However, LSA sophomore Lillie Heyman experienced twice that when she was told her wait time would be 40 minutes.


After the Law Library had closed at 12 a.m. on a Saturday and buses had retired their routes, Heyman needed to get back to her dorm at Oxford Housing. Never having tried SafeRide before, she decided to call them.


“I called the number and the person answered, and they asked if I wanted to be added to the queue of people waiting for SafeRide,” Heyman said. “The wait was 40 minutes.”


Students often turn to SafeRide before transportation apps like Uber or Lyft to avoid the potentially hefty fees they charge, which can exceed $10 depending on the location. Not wanting to wait outside the closed library, Heyman turned to the pricey alternative.


“When I saw the Uber fare was so high, I decided to give it a try, because 40 minutes is too much of a wait for midnight,” she said. “So I Ubered.”


The anonymous source said such waits are rare. Factors like weather, events and traffic, she said, can all contribute to extended wait times, and the limited resources they have make it hard to satisfy all demand.


“It all comes down to supply and demand. If a lot of people are using the system, we only have so much supply,” she said. “We try to do the best we can with as many resources as we have.”


SafeRide’s app and website TapRide regularly updates the pick-up time. At 10 p.m. on Wednesday night –– the time of night when the anonymous source said requests usually peak –– the average wait was 30 minutes.  


The wait time can be longer on the nights of football games, the anonymous source said.


“There have been times when a football game is getting out and people are trying to use it,” she said. “That is mostly because of traffic and the amount of rides coming in can impact the wait time.”


For students who live even farther away on North Campus, transit services like SafeRide are crucial. Although Bursley-Baits and Northwood routes typically run to about 2 a.m. on weekdays and weekends, they only depart from the C.C. Little bus stop. For School of Music, Theatre, and Dance freshman Kamryn Thomas, the hike to the bus stop was too long from South Campus, where she had ended up after playing with the marching band. Not knowing whether buses were running on a game day was an incentive for her to try SafeRide.


“It ended up taking 30 to 50 minutes, or something outrageous like that,” Thomas said. “And it kept updating the ETA, and I was like, ‘Is my phone broken or something?’ I didn’t want to cancel the ride in case they were coming soon or something. So I just sat there and waited.”