University Police report student 4-RIDE use continues to increase this semester despite complaints of slow response times and a hijacked van incident last semester.
Freshman Joel Nori, who lives in the Hall on Virginia Avenue, said he calls 4-RIDE about six times a week but ends up leaving before the van arrives about half of that time. He said when he does wait long enough for the van to come, it can take as long as 45 minutes to arrive.
“Usually the response time is 10 minutes, but it’s 15, 20 minutes, maybe 40 percent of the time,” another HOVA resident, Dan Sher, said.
Some students said wait times have decreased this year.
Junior Betsy Isay said she waits 15 to 20 minutes on average for a ride, compared to the average 45-minute wait she reports from last year.
“Last year, the wait was often something like 45 minutes, and you would call them and they would be like, ‘oh, are you still waiting?'” Isay said.
UPD Dolores Stafford said heavy 4-RIDE demand slows driver response to calls. She said seven or eight UPD vans are on the road on any night and respond to a radio dispatcher at the G Street station if they can pick up a call, similar to a city taxi service.
While for-profit on-call transportation services can add cars and drivers depending on demand, Stafford said 4-RIDE’s is limited to eight vans and 11 full-time drivers no matter what the demand is.
She also said 4-RIDE experiences peak times from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. every night and an influx of calls during cold or inclement weather.
Despite an increased volume, Stafford said UPD has decreased 4-RIDE wait times from an average 25 minutes last year to 15 minutes this year. UPD tracks these times by cataloguing the times when a passenger calls and when they are picked up.
Stafford said 4-RIDE handled 67 percent more riders during the 2000-01 academic year than the previous year. Last semester, she said, 4-RIDE responded to more calls than during the entire 1999-2000 year.
“It’s one of those services where if you build it, they will come,” Stafford said.
UPD spent $100,000 to add four new vans and three drivers to the 4-RIDE fleet in July, she said, after meeting with student representatives and UPD employees to discuss improving the system.
4-RIDE also employs one full-time car dispatcher and two full-time supervisors to oversee the other employees and make sure the system runs smoothly. The service began in 1994 with one van, and UPD now spends about $500,000 of its budget on 4-RIDE.
Sophomore Eric Daleo heads a special Student Association committee on 4-RIDE to channel student complaints to UPD. Daleo (U-CCAS) said he would like to see UPD address three issues: feedback, the Colonial Express shuttle and areas of service.
The SA created the committee three months ago “to address the perceived inefficiency and unresponsiveness of 4-RIDE,” Daleo said.
The committee is also conducting a student survey to gauge what complaints students have about the 4-RIDE system.
Stafford said problems arise when students expect the vans to show up and do not come outside to wait for them. Since the vans are instructed to wait no more than “about two or three minutes” to keep the system running smoothly, Stafford said students often end up missing their ride.
She said UPD hopes to address this problem by finding a way to contact students when a van is five minutes away from picking them up.
Students who place calls to 4-RIDE for destinations on the Colonial Express shuttle route are told to wait for the shuttle, which is scheduled to stop at five campus locations every six to eight minutes. Those locations include the Marvin Center, Thurston Hall, HOVA, Columbia Plaza and Health and Wellness Center, most of which are unmarked as shuttle stops.
Although UPD claims an average wait of six to eight minutes for the Colonial Express, the shuttle averaged 18.5-minute loops for three rounds Wednesday night, as observed from outside HOVA.
Daleo also said Colonial Express, which runs during the same hours as 4-RIDE from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m., is not used enough.
Isay said although she uses 4-RIDE about once a week this semester, she has never used Colonial Express.
Several students said the Colonial Express bus is usually empty. By comparison, a 4-RIDE driver who declined to give his name said he takes an average of 40 riders a night.
Nori said when he calls 4-RIDE he is sometimes told to wait for the shuttle.
“I would use it if it didn’t take so long,” freshman Shari Newman said, adding she does not know the shuttle schedule.
While no meeting is scheduled, Stafford and SA members said they hope to meet and discuss possible improvements.
Daleo said that the committee, which also includes Sens. Fiona Conroy (U-CCAS), Bridget O’Brien (U-CCAS), Mira Browne (U-CCAS) and Brian Cohen (G-At Large), plans to finalize proposals in two to three weeks. The proposals will also be submitted to John Petri, the recently hired Director of Public Safety, and Robert Chernak, vice president for Student and Academic Support Services.
Daleo also said he would like to see the areas of 4-RIDE service expanded to reflect where students go the most. He said the service will take students to areas by the State Department, which is mostly park land, but not to areas between campus and Georgetown’s border, where many students live.
SA Vice Chair of Finance Dan Moss (U-SBPM) said the committee would also like to see 4-RIDE service expanded to the Mount Vernon Campus.
4-RIDE travels a maximum of four blocks outside GW’s campus.
The farthest points 4-RIDE will travel to are Constitution Avenue to the south; M Street to the north; the Hall on Virginia Avenue to the west; and 15th Street to the east.
Daleo said the University Police Department has already acted on some of the committee’s recommendations, including increasing publicity for 4-RIDE and Colonial Express.
Moss said the committee has established good communication with UPD.
“Dolores Stafford has always worked well with us,” Moss said. “She’s never given us any problems with communication, and I think that’s the key issue here – good communication.”