Bradley Dlatt: Fixing 4-RIDE’s flaws

Of the many common experiences that bind us together as a GW community – moments like waking up way too early to register for classes or attempting to spend the required amount of money at J Street – there is one that casts its shadow over Foggy Bottom during these frigid winter months: “You have reached the UPD 4-RIDE line, please hold on and an operator will answer your call in the order in which it was received…” Every GW student has heard this message at some point in his or her college career. Usually, it is being repeated numerous times while he or she is stuck on hold.

The George Washington University Escort Service, known to most students as 4-RIDE, is a program that has been praised by campus safety evaluators across the nation. But 4-RIDE’s many shortcomings remain an area of deep frustration for GW students.

According to an article in Campus Safety Magazine, the service began in 1994 with the purchase of one van that transported students who did not feel safe walking on or near campus alone late at night. The magazine praised the work of University Police Chief Dolores Stafford: “This escort service has grown to an $800,000 program with 19 vans, two buses and 25 full-time employees.” 4-RIDE’s apparent success was one of the major factors in Stafford being awarded Campus Safety Director of the Year by the magazine in 2007.

Even with that kind of fleet, it’s important to make sure the program is being used to its fullest and most efficient extent. As most students know, the service is almost never readily available. Students are stuck on hold for long periods of time during peak hours while an operator attempts to coordinate the available vans and the volume of phone calls. This is a very serious problem that has been known to students for quite some time, and yet continues to go unchanged. These long waits – I have seen people wait almost an hour to get a van – do a tremendous disservice to the purpose of the program and present an issue which must be discussed in the upcoming Student Association spring elections.

The solutions to providing a more efficient and useful University service lie in the hands of both the administration and students. The initial answer is that UPD must work to expand the number of operators and drivers on a given night based on expected weather conditions, something which is no different than any other field of public-style transportation. On nights when the weather is going to be notably harsh, UPD should prepare by making sure all vans are available, and be ready to expand service should the weather worsen. This will alleviate stress on drivers and allow more students to effectively utilize the service.

Moreover, to decrease the amount of time students must wait on the phone, as well as lower the potential for mistakes made by the phone operator, UPD should consider putting more operators on call and, if necessary, adding a second phone number for students to call. Having multiple operators working regularly will better coordinate vans, making the service even more efficient on the whole. This will also ensure that students can trust their calls will be answered more rapidly.

Although the 4-RIDE system may be viewed by some as just a luxury, there are many more who legitimately need a faster, safer and more efficient form of transportation during nighttime hours. As GW continues to grow and expand as a University, it is necessary for 4-RIDE to mirror this growth and expand. Otherwise, the program will continue to be viewed by students as an inefficient form of getting around campus. We have all heard that lovely baritone voice that comes along with our calls to 4-RIDE, but let’s hope we can hear less of it in the future and have a safe-ride service students can actually trust and utilize to its full potential.

The writer, a sophomore majoring in political science, is a Hatchet columnist.

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