November 23, 2010

Petition brings forum on SafeRide reliability

Over 500 students have signed a Facebook petition criticizing SafeRide’s unreliability, prompting Student Government (SG) to organize a discussion between students and Director of Transportation Rodney Morris to be held today.

Alleging that service is unreliable at a time when security alerts about on-campus crimes are up, a form letter included in the petition asks that SafeRide answer any call made during operating hours within one minute and “to have SafeRide arrive when promised by the dispatcher.”

Its authors, first-year graduate students Sarah Pinho, Lindsay Garlock, Emmi Gordon, and Abby Abisinito, suggest that other students send e-mails to University Police Department Chief Marlon Lynch through the form letter.

“We had this conversation so many times about how we were having so many issues with SafeRide,” Abisinito said. They decided to reach out to other students, hoping that multiple e-mails would garner a response.

The petition cites the fact that students must wait outside for vans as a major safety concern. To prevent students from waiting in dangerous areas, SafeRide is supposed to issue arrival calls to waiting students. Yet many students never receive these calls and must wait outside for late-arriving vans, something flagged as a problem in the petition.

Lynch said in a recent e-mail that his department “will provide a written response to the community after the Thanksgiving break regarding pending changes to SafeRide, both for day-to-day operations and governing policy.”

Second-year Frank Alarcon, the undergraduate liaison to the Board of Trustees, reached out to the petitioners on behalf of SG, which organized a forum with Morris for Tuesday evening. Students and administrators will discuss the recent criticism of SafeRide and safety concerns.

“It’s the best thing that could have happened,” Abisinto said of the upcoming discussion. The petitioners agreed that this marked a first step toward changing a system they believe to be flawed.

SafeRide works on a “first-call, first-come” system, and the act of reaching the dispatcher is one of the petitioners’ central complaints. “They don’t answer their phones within business hours,” Gordon said, explaining that she has had to call the SafeRide number three or four times before the phone was answered.

The group acknowledged that student misuse of the SafeRide system could be among the causes for the delays. Using SafeRide just for convenience rather than for safety is problematic, Garlock said. “I wonder how well that expectation [of purpose] is set for everyone,” she said.

The four initially invited 30 to 50 graduate students in a Facebook event on which the petition is posted, but by the next morning, it had been sent to 1,300 people.

“It definitely hit a tone for people who are already frustrated. Pinho said. “Otherwise it wouldn’t have blown up like this.”

Students have shared experiences with SafeRide on the event wall, despite the creators’ original intent of initiating a letter writing campaign.