It’s a Friday night, and political science freshman Jori Cowley is out for the weekend. It’s late when the night ends, so to make sure she and her friends get home safe, she gets out her phone, opens the OU Innovate app and calls for a SafeRide. She receives the code, confirms the ride and then, she waits.
This is the third time she’s tried to use SafeRide. The first time she tried, she waited nearly an hour before the ride showed up. The second, it never showed up at all. This time, she’s apprehensive. She doesn’t want to walk back, so after half an hour, she and her friends split an Uber.
Cowley is one of many students who have struggled with issues regarding the SafeRide program. Students have reported location services not working, long wait times, and the ride not showing up at all.
According to George Ahmadi, assistant director of Student Affairs, the average wait time in the last fiscal year was 21 minutes and 47 seconds, meeting the time limit mandated in the contract between the university and the vendor, Airport Express. Some students, however, have experienced wait times far longer than that.
“We were just sitting on a bench at Campus Corner outside so it wasn’t like, safe, you know?” said Cowley, who most recently attempted to use SafeRide at the beginning of this semester. “I tried to use the OU Innovate app, and we waited like 30 minutes and no one ever showed up.”
SafeRide first launched in 2004 as an aid in enforcing the student alcohol policy. When it was first released, it was a phone number that any OU student could call for a free, safe and confidential ride that would get them back home safely.
In 2012, the program switched to the “voucher system,” requiring students to come to the Student Government Association office to receive three free cards to use for the upcoming weekend, Ahmadi said. The vouchers were allowed to be passed around to friends and could be used for multiple people on a single ride.
“I think some students mentioned that it was a little inconvenient,” said Ahmadi regarding the voucher system. “But the idea was that you could pass them to your friends … if you knew that someone needed a ride.”
In July 2016, SafeRide transferred to the OU Innovate app to better track the service’s use among students, Ahmadi said. There are four vehicles that run from 10 p.m. till 3 a.m. Thursday through Saturday, and each weekend there is an average of 87.5 rides — about 21 rides for each driver over the weekend and about seven rides each night SafeRide is open, according to Ahmadi.
Nursing freshman Abigail Eichelberger had a similar experience to Cowley’s. She tried to use SafeRide last November, when she called for a ride on the app with some friends at around 10:30 p.m. The ride never came, and she and her friends paid for a Lyft to get home.
Eichelberger said that the SafeRide feature would benefit from a certain amount of redesign to make it more “effective (and) convenient.”
“With Uber or Lyft, you just put in your address and it shows you a map of where the driver is, when they’re going to get to you, what kind of car they’re driving… and with SafeRide you don’t really have that,” Eichelberger said.
According to Ahmadi, if the wait time is excessive, students should report their experience.
“We’re contractually bound with Airport Express for them to keep it under a certain time,” Ahmadi said. “So if it’s an excessive wait, we want to hear about that.”