University Police officials said the semester-old 4-RIDE call center has been effective in controlling call volume, but students may still experience long wait times.
The program received a $180,000 budget increase for this year, allowing University Police to purchase four new vans, hire six new drivers and add a transportation coordinator and call center. The center tracks phone calls, allowing a dispatcher to answer calls in the order in which they are placed.
UPD Chief Dolores Stafford said that last year there were four phone lines that a dispatcher answered randomly.
Because the call center operates with one dispatcher, students may remain on hold for 20 to 25 minutes, especially during 4-RIDE’s peak hours of 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Stafford said.
“There will be 30-minute periods when we have 40 to 50 phone calls,” Stafford said. “The new system is pretty sophisticated in telling us different types of statistics with regard to the calls.”
Last year, 4-RIDE escorted 101,124 students, a 37 percent increase from the previous school year. From September to November 2003, the service escorted 30,605 students, compared to 34,357 during the same time period in 2002. Stafford said December numbers from 2003 have not yet been compiled.
Stafford said UPD is looking into ways to improve the current 4-RIDE service but has not yet determined what recommendations she will make to the administration.
“If we have topped out so far, as to volume, it will make it a lot easier for us to assess our operations instead of trying to accommodate increasing usage by students,” she said.
Student Association President Kris Hart said he is working with University officials to improve the service.
“I have still heard plenty of complaints from students this year about waiting and then never getting through,” he said. “The Student Association is making 4-RIDE a priority because it is a necessary service.”
“They have enough vans,” he added. “What we are focusing on is getting more dispatchers. They are very overwhelmed trying to recognize the calls.”
Hart said he plans to continue meeting with officials next semester.
Students said they hope service improves because they depend on 4-RIDE late at night.
“I do not notice a difference in service, especially since they do not have many operators answering the calls. It still takes a long time to get through,” sophomore Rhonda Leesburg said.
“The service really varies depending on the night; it is a hit or miss situation,” freshman Sarah Jugo said. “You never know when it will take five or 20 minutes.”
Despite student concerns, Stafford said she is pleased with the new call center.
“We can now better control the calls,” she said. “You can never get rid of wait times when volume spikes. We have to plan the service by looking at the average number of calls.”