How do you support student safety with an app? By establishing a technology-driven, on-demand safe ride system for students in need of late-night transportation.
On Monday, Feb. 12, the MIT Parking and Transportation Office launched the SafeRide OnDemand Shuttle pilot. This program — developed in collaboration with the Graduate Student Council (GSC), Undergraduate Association (UA), and the Division of Student Life (DSL) — enhances after-hours shuttle services for members of the MIT community. The parking office plans to run the pilot through the beginning of June, when it will assess its effectiveness.
SafeRide OnDemand aims to enhance student safety by reducing the need for students to walk to and wait at shuttle stops during late-night hours, particularly during inclement weather. It covers the MIT campus and surrounding neighborhoods, as well as some Boston, Brookline, and Somerville neighborhoods where MIT students live. By operating with quieter gas-powered vans, the service is able to provide more complete coverage in Boston, encompassing neighborhoods where diesel-powered shuttle buses are not allowed to idle.
“In OnDemand mode, it’s designed to be a shuttle when you need it, where you need it,” explains Tom Giannino, operations manager for the Parking and Transportation Office. “Students and staff can use an app to request a ride, and we will gather their feedback throughout the pilot program.”
SafeRide is on-demand after 11 p.m.
Currently, SafeRide service begins at 6 p.m. every evening. As a fixed-route mode of transportation, the shuttles travel along predetermined routes making regular stops. On Sunday through Wednesday, the SafeRide shuttle service wraps up at 2:30 a.m.; on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, the shuttle is available for an additional hour, up until 3:30 a.m.
Now, with SafeRide OnDemand, the shuttles switch into on-demand mode from 11 p.m. until the end of service each night, with “last call” being 15 minutes before the end of service. To use SafeRide OnDemand, riders first need to download the TransLoc Rider app or access the online Rider OnDemand service using their Kerberos credentials. Then, instead of waiting for the shuttle at a shuttle stop, riders can request a pickup and drop-off at any location within MIT’s designated SafeRide OnDemand zone.
SafeRide OnDemand uses 14-passenger vans to provide door-to-door shared rides similar to uberPOOL or Lyft. As with the fixed-route shuttles, on-demand service includes accessible vans that can be requested when the ride is booked. The designated SafeRide OnDemand zone is a slightly expanded version of the areas covered by the fixed-route shuttles earlier in the evening, made possible by the use of vans instead of shuttle buses.
Expanding the late-night zone
To obtain permission to extend shuttle services into new areas, members of the MIT team — including Sarah Gallop from the MIT Office of Government and Community Relations — worked closely with Boston City Councilor Josh Zakim, the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB), and the Back Bay Association. MIT then successfully petitioned the Boston Transportation Department for approval of the new service.
“For SafeRide, we are interested in improving its usability during late night by having the shuttle travel beyond the predetermined stops,” explains Orpheus Chatzivasileiou, a chemical engineering PhD candidate and GSC secretary, speaking of the work of the GSC Transportation Subcommittee. “We helped survey the needs of graduate students, communicate them to the larger working group, and participated in meetings — for example, with the NABB — aimed at increasing the SafeRide range in Boston.”
Alexa Martin, a third-year mathematics major and UA vice president, says that they were inspired by on-demand transportation systems at other universities and notes that students have been involved in every step of the process to establish MIT’s new service. “With this new on-demand system, no student will have to walk back to their residence at night, alone, or in the cold,” Martin notes, “which is a really positive change for MIT.”
On-demand pilot operating until June
The OnDemand shuttle pilot program will operate until the beginning of June, with the hope that it will become a permanent feature on campus. To help evaluate the pilot program, the Parking and Transportation Office plans to gather comments and feedback from MIT riders and neighbors over the next several months. A simple feedback form has been developed and posted for members of the community to share their experiences.
Throughout the pilot period, the MIT team expects to gather data on rider usage and numbers of on-demand trips, as well as data on questions and reported concerns.
“For students, I think this on-demand system is going to have a really significant impact,” Martin says.
“We hope to be able to serve people who are not served well by the current stops,” Chatzivasileiou adds. “We aim to allow students returning from the lab or going from one location to another within the zone to be able to do so without fear of missing a shuttle and having to wait for the next one.”
“We take student safety seriously,” says Suzy Nelson, vice president and dean for student life. “After hearing from many students that flexible late-night transportation is a priority, I am happy that the work of this dedicated team of students and staff has resulted in what I hope will be a great service for the entire MIT community.”
Members of the MIT community can access SafeRide shuttle services during the following times:
- Shuttles circulate to assigned stops on a predetermined schedule
- Sunday to Saturday, 6 p.m. to 11 p.m.
- Riders use app or online service to request pickup and drop-off within the zone
- Sunday to Wednesday, 11 p.m. to 2:30 a.m.
- Thursday to Saturday, 11 p.m. to 3:30 a.m.
For information about the program and to provide feedback, riders can visit the SafeRide Shuttle page.