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UCLA is falling to USC again – this time in providing safe student transportation

With the majority of its student body no longer on campus, UCLA has the perfect opportunity to improve its existing Safe Ride services. This includes extending operating hours, increasing pickup locations and expanding advertising strategies. (Tanmay Shankar/Assistant Photo editor)

By Elizabeth Hanczor

May 15, 2020 9:26 p.m.

When UCLA is able to safely return to the bustling campus it once was just a few months ago, students will need a safe way to get home.

But at the moment, the means to do so aren’t fitting the bill.

UCLA Safe Ride is a student service designed to provide safe and reliable transportation between campus, on-campus housing and select nearby residential and urban areas. Existing pick-up locations span a region including Wilshire Boulevard, the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and Hedrick Hall, as well as the North Village. And from these limited spots, rides can only be called from 7 p.m. until 12 a.m., Monday through Thursday.

Safe Ride vans are operated by Community Service Officers, or CSOs. The program is overseen by the UCLA Police Department and is partnered with UCLA Transportation, all with the goal of ensuring riders are kept safe with rapid communication channels between drivers and the police force.

Certainly, the objective of the Safe Ride initiative is to keep UCLA students safe. However, these good intentions aren’t worth their weight in accessibility and effectiveness. This program is a step in the right direction, but should further expand its services to best serve the student population.

If UCLA is going to spend time and money developing a student transportation service, it should be comprehensive. The university must reevaluate its transit systems and plan how to better protect students. Safe Ride advertising strategies must be improved and the hours, days and pick-up locations need to be extended in order to best serve the student body. And while the streets of Westwood lie dormant, UCLA has the perfect opportunity to do exactly this.

Because at the end of the day, student safety should be one of UCLA’s top priorities.

One of the biggest problems Safe Ride faces is its lack of publicity. Many students have either never heard of or only vaguely remember what Safe Ride is, not to mention how to access its services.

For example, Bradley Whiteside, a third-year computer engineering student, said the service was only vaguely familiar.

“I think I learned about (Safe Ride) during orientation, but I’ve never used it,” Whiteside said. “I don’t think I’ve heard of any of my friends using it before either.”

Likewise, Zev Marx-Kahn, a first-year environmental science student, said he tried to use the Safe Ride service once. However, it normally slips his mind.

“A lot of times I forget that it exists,” Marx-Kahn said. “Sometimes, I just would not think of it as an option for getting somewhere.”

And this is through no fault of his own, or any other student left unaware. New student orientation is simply not enough. UCLA should badger the student body with information about important safety measures like Safe Ride until it is ingrained in students’ psyches.

UCLA can achieve this through social media initiatives, collaborations with popular student organizations and, of course, traditional advertising measures.

But if UCLA promotes this service, it needs to be prepared to appropriately serve a large population every day.

Active a measly four nights a week and five hours a day, the standing Safe Ride program either fundamentally misunderstands the social habits of college students or lacks the capacity to be effective.

These deficiencies mean students must rely on companies they are more familiar with, such as Uber and Lyft, to travel to and from campus. In December, Uber revealed that in 2018 there were 3,000 reports of sexual assault on rides in the United States. Similarly, Lyft, which some consider to be the safer alternative to Uber, is facing dozens of lawsuits accusing the company of weak background checks and not doing enough to protect passengers.

Across town, USC has made student transit security a top priority – and by doing so, puts UCLA and its insufficient safety initiatives to a shame.

The closest program to Safe Ride on their campus is called Campus Cruiser. It is operated by students and is designed to function similarly to rideshare apps like Uber and Lyft. However, it is functional all week, well into the early morning hours.

Mahin Tahsin, a fourth-year business administration and economics student and the former USC Undergraduate Student Government vice president, said that in addition to Campus Cruiser, students have access to free Lyfts within a certain radius of campus. And as a result of student safety advocacy, availability ebbs and flows with daylight savings.

“The hours were changed to match when the sun goes down,” Tahsin said. “It is a program for student safety and theoretically more dangerous situations would happen when it is dark outside.”

Sabrile McGinn, a third-year business administration student at USC, said everyone she knows uses the service.

You can go to any bar, any house, any party that’s close to campus and you have a free, safe ride,” McGinn said. “I’ve literally never heard anyone say anything bad about it.”

It’s evident that UCLA’s safety measures pale in comparison to this ingenuity and accessibility. While it’s disappointing when the Bruins don’t beat the Trojans in sports, it is humiliating to fall behind in security.

It is important to note that the financial structures and demand for advanced security measures sharply differ between UCLA and USC.

At UCLA, funds for transportation services like Ride Share are limited. But as many students would certainly agree, this is a program worth a greater cost. UCLA’s Safe Ride should, at the bare minimum, work to achieve the same daily operating schedule available at USC.

Some may argue that for-profit rideshare apps like Uber and Lyft may be the easy and cheap alternative to costly renovations. However, that isn’t necessarily the case. When all is said and done, getting home safely is all anyone really cares about. UCLA needs to pull its weight and make that journey safer for its students.

And while everyone is home, UCLA has the time to figure it out.

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Elizabeth Hanczor
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