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New app puts a free SafeRide in the palm of your hand

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Z Saenz/SBS Tech/UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences | The Daily Wildcat

Then-freshman student Kirk Davis uses SafeRide’s old app, Transloc Rider, to order a SafeRide car on Sept. 30, 2016. With the passage of a recent City of Tucson ordinance, it is now a primary offence to use your hands to make a call with your cell phone.

If you find yourself around campus and the sun has gone down, the idea of walking home in the dark may seem rather unappealing. But fear not, for you are a Wildcat, and a fraction of your tuition and student fees have already paid for a solution.

SafeRide is a free transportation service that has been operated by University of Arizona students since 1981. Back then, SafeRide was known as the ASUA Escort Service, which was set up so students could request to have other students walk home with them. 

As the program grew in popularity and students began to live further away from campus, ASUA purchased a fleet of vehicles and expanded the ASUA Escort Service into the SafeRide program.

Today SafeRide offers pick-up and drop-off services between any two locations within its  area of operation — about 9-square miles around the campus — and the only price for a ride is to show your CatCard.

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Starting Nov. 9, SafeRide will have a new app, TapRide, to make that free trip home or to get food even easier.

“We also offer trips to the grocery store,” said Jacob Smith, Administrative Director of SafeRide. “Basically, anything that a student would need to do during the week, so they won’t have to be walking home alone.”

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SafeRide operates in the evenings, beginning at 6:30 pm, Sunday through Friday. The program is staffed with 45-50 drivers that are all current students at the UA. With up to 11 drivers on shift, the service is used by hundreds of passengers each evening.  

“I’d say we usually take about 300 to 400 a night,” said Sal Licari, operations director of SafeRide.

Previously, SafeRide had been operating with a phone system as well as a smartphone app, both of which could be used by passengers to request a ride. However, SafeRide has recently had problems with its smartphone app due to issues with their previous provider.

“They didn’t have 24/7 customer service, and they were marketing their service to SafeRide programs, which operate after hours,” Licari said. “So, if we had a problem after hours, we were out of luck. That was the main issue.”

But SafeRide will have another app up and running soon.

TapRide was chosen as the new app for SafeRide at UA, and will be available for free on both Android and iOS.

The app is used by SafeRide programs around the country, and works a lot like ride-sharing apps used by companies such as Uber and Lyft.  

Users will be able to request rides and give their current location without having to call. This information will then be sent to a SafeRide driver, whose vehicle is equipped with an iPad to display pick-up location and give directions to their next destination.

However, users without a smartphone can still request a ride by calling the SafeRide phone number.

“About a third of our ride requests are still done over the phone,” Licari said.

To fund student programs such as SafeRide or ZonaZoo, ASUA maintains a contract with the university. These contracts will often last up to five years and will guarantee a certain amount money —generated from tuition and student fees — to be used as funding for the programs.

“We agreed every year we’re going to give [SafeRide] $200,000,” said Grant Rees, ASUA treasurer. “ASUA believes that SafeRide is a good service.”

These funds must be used to cover program operating costs for that year. In SafeRide’s case, most of the funding will be spent paying employees, a cost which has increased with the raising of the minimum wage.

“We usually change how many cars we operate based on that budget,” Smith said. “Our biggest expense is human capital. Paying our workers and everything.”

While SafeRide is not offered over winter break, the program is potentially offered over the summer, so long as it has any funds left to continue operation. 

“We did last summer, but that doesn’t mean we will this summer,” Smith said. “Summer is always pretty dead, people take it, but it’s not nearly the same volume by far.”

The boundaries of SafeRide range from Broadway Boulevard in the south, all the way up to Fort Lowell Road. Stone Avenue and Country Club Road make up the western and  eastern boundaries.

However, exceptions can be made for popular locations that are just outside of the standard area of operation.

“We already make an exception for the El Con mall, or Walmart and Target, which is technically outside the boundaries,” Licari said. “But we still go.”

Smith said SafeRide didn't plan to formally expand its boundaries. “Usually increasing range isn’t necessarily an issue because we very rarely get people who are interested in going outside of our boundaries.”

“But we have recently expanded from Grant to Fort Lowell,” Smith added. “That was the only real demand.”

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Though SafeRide is available to any UA students, staff, and faculty with a simple flash of a CatCard, there are some requirements that potential passengers must abide by.

SafeRide will not take groups larger than six people. Its website reminds users that, “SafeRide is an academic service focused on student safety. Due to the large number of calls received each night, SafeRide must place priority on students traveling in smaller groups.”

Also, SafeRide’s vehicles are owned by the university, so officially they cannot take intoxicated passengers. Determination of whether a passenger is intoxicated is up to the driver, with a strict zero-tolerance policy.


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