SafeRides valuable but can be improved

As a junior, I have never used SafeRides. And I haven’t tried to use it since freshman year.

I remember being a dumb but excited freshman, wandering around campus with my new friends, thinking I was so cool for walking around Champaign late at night. We tried to use SafeRides and were rejected — we were to go to the nearest bus stop instead.

As a freshman, you usually don’t have the best sense of direction on a big, new campus (or at least I didn’t). My mind was still set to navigating the tiny halls of my high school, so maneuvering through the University was a big transition. When we were told by SafeRides that we’d have to walk a certain distance to a bus stop and wait ‘x’ amount of time for a bus, we were pretty confused and annoyed.

Especially since we had sat through so many talks about how important it was not to walk around late at night and how SafeRides was always a good alternative. A disoriented freshman’s initial idea of reliance on SafeRides could easily be shattered after being rejected once. Being told to walk to a bus stop sounds like a good solution on the surface, but the amount of time spent alone walking and waiting can be risky and maybe even equivalent to the time it would take to walk to your destination.

However, I have heard good and bad things about SafeRides.

The good: For people who have had good experiences with the service, they say it’s dependable and a safer option than walking alone. Zoya Siddiqui, junior in LAS, says, “I rely a lot on SafeRides, and they’ve always come through for me. Especially when I’m at a friend’s place in Champaign until the middle of the night or studying all the way at Grainger … the driver always picks me up at the exact time they give me on the phone and gets me home pretty quick. Because this is such a huge campus, not all buses can take you exactly where you want to go; there’s almost always some walking involved. And at 2 a.m., there’s no way I’d feel safe walking halfway across campus just to get home.”

Loyola University in Chicago also has a service similar to SafeRides known as “8-Rides”; however, its service generally operates from 6:30 p.m. until 2:30 a.m. unless they have extended hours, and in that case it runs until 4 a.m.

Our school’s SafeRides service on the other hand operates from sunset until 6:30 a.m. This is a full two-and-a-half to four hours longer than LUC’s system even when they have extended hours. Unlike Loyola, we don’t live in a huge city. One would anticipate more crime in Chicago than in the Champaign-Urbana area and, accordingly, expect higher security precautions for 8-Rides than SafeRides.

This just goes to show how our campus takes safety seriously.

The bad: People who have had negative experiences with SafeRides generally say that they were rejected and had to walk pretty far to a bus stop when they felt uncomfortable doing so. Stephanie Youssef, sophomore in LAS, said, “We were at the hospital for orientation, and it was 9 p.m., and we wanted a safe ride back to campus. The nearest bus stop was, I don’t know, at least four blocks away. And SafeRides wouldn’t come and pick us up. They said we were too close to a bus stop. However, another time we called them they picked us up one block away from a bus stop. They came to Fifth and White even though there are bus stops at Fourth [and White] and Sixth and White.”

Although the SafeRides rules specify that,“SafeRides does not duplicate fixed-route service already provided by the MTD,” I find it difficult to justify telling students to walk such a far distance to catch a bus, especially when their algorithm for where to pick up students seems a bit skewed.

Additionally, even if a student does happen to be on the route for SafeRides, they still have to wait 15 to 20 minutes. If you’re not waiting inside a building, this can be just as dangerous or even worse than waiting at a bus stop.

I definitely do see the merit in SafeRides and believe it is a valuable service to our school, which is why I see room for improvement as well.

SafeRides is a little muddled and contradictory in its procedures for pick up spots which leaves students feeling frustrated and unsatisfied. SafeRides should be more clear and consistent about where they’re going to pick students up. Also, it could be beneficial for SafeRides to invest in more shuttles and drivers.

Not only would this help the service extend where they pick students up from, but it could also speed up the actual pick-up process. This would help transform SafeRides into a service that better caters to the student body’s needs and overall sense of security.

Sehar is a junior in LAS. She can be reached at [email protected]