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University of Utah introduces free campus ride-hailing app

Portion of university’s nearly $1 million campus safety budget will go toward helping students get home safely

AnnaMarie Barnes, University of Utah student body president, speaks during the launch of a pilot program called SafeRide at the U. campus in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019. SafeRide provides a safe and reliable mode of transportation on campus to ensure safety during night hours. The free service is available to the university community but is especially meant to serve students on campus at night who need a ride to a parking lot, to their housing area or to another building on campus.
AnnaMarie Barnes, University of Utah student body president, speaks during the launch of a pilot program called SafeRide at the U. campus in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019. SafeRide provides a safe and reliable mode of transportation on campus to ensure safety during night hours. The free service is available to the university community but is especially meant to serve students on campus at night who need a ride to a parking lot, to their housing area or to another building on campus.
Steve Griffin

SALT LAKE CITY — As part of new safety measures at the University of Utah, students, staff and faculty on campus will be able to download an app and summon a free shuttle to deliver them safely to their dorms or car after dark.

The app, called TapRide, is currently used by other higher learning institutions in the nation. The University of Utah will be the first to to bring the niche ride-hailing app to the state under the U.’s SafeRide program.

“Safety remains an absolute priority for our campus and our university, and SafeRide is an example of this focus on safety,” said Lori McDonald, associate vice president of the U.

The idea was brought forth by students on the University’s Safety Task Force assembled by U. President Ruth Watkins after student-athlete Lauren McCluskey was murdered on campus in October.

“Our campus has had a couple of tragedies in the recent years,” said McDonald, who emphasized “improving campus safety has been incredibly important.”

Alongside the ride-hail app, new safety measures include hiring a senior-level chief of safety officer, clustering night classes in quadrants with increased safety patrols, and providing extra student parking after 3 p.m.

Alma Allred, executive director of commuter services at the University of Utah, top left, speaks during the launch of a pilot program called SafeRide at the U. campus in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019. SafeRide provides a safe and reliable mode of transportation on campus to ensure safety during night hours. The free service is available to the university community but is especially meant to serve students on campus at night who need a ride to a parking lot, to their housing area or to another building on campus.
Alma Allred, executive director of commuter services at the University of Utah, top left, speaks during the launch of a pilot program called SafeRide at the U. campus in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019. SafeRide provides a safe and reliable mode of transportation on campus to ensure safety during night hours. The free service is available to the university community but is especially meant to serve students on campus at night who need a ride to a parking lot, to their housing area or to another building on campus.
Steve Griffin

The safety implementations, funded by an approximately $925,000 budget appropriation, come on the heels of a $56 million lawsuit filed by McCluskey’s parents, Jill and Matt McCluskey, claiming the university did not do enough to prevent the death of their daughter.

Alma Allred, director of the U.’s commuter services, said the app will make use of three commuter service vehicles, one of which is wheelchair accessible. He noted that the university is in the process of hiring five to six student drivers for the new service, which will make an average of four drivers available from 6 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.

Student drivers will be paid $15.35 an hour to drive their peers around campus or to parking locations near campus. AnnaMarie Barnes, U. student body president, said this was also a result of student suggestions.

She said during a pilot launch of the app over the summer, having “student drivers made the students in vehicles feel more comfortable.”

“It’s important to recognize a lot of students from various communities don’t really feel safe around police and security, and so having that peer-to-peer relationship, in a safety situation, is really important,” she added.

Student driver Robert Witkop said, “It’s cool that, you know, students can feel safe,” because “this service is going to be there for them, all they have to do is click on the app, request a ride and we’ll be there.”