Student suggestions sparked SafeRide changes, official says
Kyven Zhao, The Oklahoma Daily
AT A GLANCE
Students can pick up vouchers Monday through Friday in Oklahoma Memorial Union, Room 181. Students will need to present a current student ID to receive up to three vouchers per week. SafeRide workers will enter students' names and ID numbers into a Google Docs live form spreadsheet and check that students haven't already received vouchers for that weekend.
Source: OU Student Affairs
The decision to change SafeRide was made after students, campus leaders and staff offered suggestions to help shorten long wait times — which included a voucher program, a university official said.
Beginning this week, students will be allotted three vouchers per week that will allow them to use the SafeRide program as long as they present a voucher to the cab driver, OU student programs director Brynn Daves said. SafeRide will determine how many vouchers to print each week based on the number of vouchers picked up the week before, she said.
Daves said the need to revise the SafeRide system came from two main issues: the program’s growing popularity and the “middleman” role the SafeRide dispatchers played in the call process.
SafeRide dispatchers told Daves the call process was often backlogged due to the sheer number of students calling each weekend night, she said. In addition, any mistake made when a student’s information was taken left the SafeRide and cab company dispatchers “going in circles” as they retraced each step of the process, she said.
Daves said she believed the system needed to be more efficient to help shorten wait times and keep students from leaving before a cab picked them up.
Modern dance and human relations junior Lauren Lundeen said she likes the new system.
“One of the main reasons is it took about 20 minutes for SafeRide to get to students, and students had to go through multiple people,” she said.
Clyda Teegerstrom, owner of Yellow Cab of Norman, said 8 to 10 percent of the approximately 70 calls her company receives each night are “dead calls” — calls in which students don’t need the ride after all but don’t call to cancel.
She said her company receives very few canceled calls per weekend night, but her cab drivers appreciate when students inform them that they no longer need the ride they requested. When students don't call to cancel, cab drivers waste gas and miss the chance to give rides to people who actually need them, she said.
During the weekend of April 26, 77 dead calls were reported out of 1,034 total people transported, Daves said.
Lary Love, office manager of Airport Express of Oklahoma City, also said his company keeps track of canceled calls. The company doesn’t bill for canceled calls, but they are not a big loss of income, he said.
In addition to campuswide surveys, SafeRide held several focus groups to discuss potential solutions to the problem, Daves said.
Daves said she invited students who had expressed concerns or submitted feedback to participate in the focus groups to help determine what changes needed to be made to reduce wait times.
"It's not often that students want to come talk about SafeRide, so I thought, 'This is my opportunity to get feedback from someone who is actually using the program,’" she said.
SafeRide dispatchers and student leaders from some of the university's larger organizations — such as the Interfraternity Council, Multicultural Greek Council and UOSA — participated in this process, she said.
UOSA is fully in support of this system and wants to help students transition as smoothly as possible, Vice President Rainey Sewell said in an email.
Since SafeRide began in 2004, the number of passengers picked up each year has gone from 3,425 to 35,544, according to ridership reports. And although the number of students using the free service has grown every year, the biggest jump came in 2011-12, when SafeRide was used 14,066 times more than the previous year.
There are typically 18 to 20 cabs participating in the program each weekend, Daves said. Daves said she doesn’t think more cabs will be needed since wait times should drop with the new system, but SafeRide can negotiate its contract with the companies if more cabs are needed in the future, she said.
The cab companies inform SafeRide of how many more vehicles they can afford to insure and provide, she said. Daves also said SafeRide is open to allowing a third cab company to provide the service if the need arises, but she doesn't think the program will need one yet.
Airport Express has been a SafeRide provider for three years, Love said. The company has about 40 cabs, about 10 of which are currently available for SafeRide weekends, he said. He said he's sure the company could provide more if there is a need.
Yellow Cab of Norman has worked with the SafeRide program since it began in 2004. Teegerstrom said she has increased the number of cabs in her fleet from six to 10 in the last five years. In addition to overall growth in Norman, the increase was due in part to the growing number of SafeRide calls received, she said.
All 10 of Yellow Cab's vehicles are available to take SafeRide calls, Teegerstrom said. Drivers do not pick up SafeRide calls exclusively, but those calls take top priority and are answered first and foremost, she said.
Teegerstrom said she could further increase the number of cabs in her fleet if the need for them continues to grow.
“I truly hope it works out,” she said. “We want it to work. We’re OU alums, and we’ll work with [SafeRide] in every way possible, as long as it’s economically feasible.”
Teegerstrom said she hopes the voucher program will prevent students from using SafeRide for a free ride from one bar to another, as some have in the past.
Daves said she thinks the limited number of vouchers will keep students from using SafeRide as a “chauffeur” from one stop to the next. She said the goal of the program is to make sure students get home safely, not to give them free rides across town all night.
Public relations senior Braxton Banning said he wonders if the new voucher system will create problems by making it more difficult for students to get a safe ride back home.
“It almost promotes more drinking and driving because students without vouchers can no longer get a free ride," he said.
Braxton said he uses SafeRide about once every weekend.
In addition to adding vouchers, officials restructured the program's logistics in an effort to streamline the process.
Previously, when students called 405-325-RIDE, they spoke to a student dispatcher who verified the caller's name, pickup location, drop-off location and phone number. A different dispatcher would then call the cab company with the information, Daves said.
Now, students looking for a ride home will call one of the cab companies directly — either Yellow Cab or Airport Express — using the phone numbers listed on the voucher, she said. Students who call 405-325-RIDE will hear a recorded message explaining the new system.
Officials hope cutting out one of the phone calls will help reduce opportunities for mistakes to happen.
“We’ve had situations when things have gotten miscommunicated, especially when it’s very busy at certain times of the night," Daves said.
Teegerstrom said she thinks it would help if student dispatchers continued to take down the initial information from students requesting a SafeRide cab. In particular, she said she worries drivers will no longer have a record of how long it takes them to pick up each student if there isn’t a student dispatcher writing down the time the cab is requested.
“I think that student dispatchers that were more involved in each individual call would certainly be good,” she said.
Although the students employed by SafeRide will no longer work as late-night dispatchers, their jobs are not being eliminated — instead, their new responsibility will be to distribute vouchers, Daves said.
Since many of the SafeRide workers are hired through the Resident Adviser program, they will continue to be paid the same hourly wage for a total of 10 hours a week or less, depending on their schedules, she said.
The workers will continue to work in shifts but with two per shift instead of four, Daves said. Housing and Food Services will let SafeRide know how many resident advisers are available, and the program will accommodate that number, Daves said. She said she hopes to keep the number of SafeRide workers at 12 during the fall semester.
SafeRide would not make student employees available for interviews because they are still being trained on the program's changes, Daves said.