University mulls automating 4-RIDE

Requesting a 4-RIDE via text message may no longer be as far-fetched idea, if plans by a senior administrator move forward.

University officials are moving toward a new dispatch system that would allow students to ask for a 4-RIDE vehicle not just with a phone call, but online or via text message, with hopes that a more automated system would improve the overused transportation system’s lagging response time.

Administrators are in the preliminary stages of considering the switch, and no timeline has been set for implementation, but Senior Associate Vice President for Safety and Security Darrell Darnell said last week the University has asked several contractors to create a proposal.

“I want to do it as quickly as we possibly can, it’s hard to put a time period on that,” Darnell said. “What we’re trying to do is something that hasn’t been done here [at] GW before, this type of system, so we want to try to get it right the first time.”

Darnell said he wants the new system to be more efficient, so it would also allow students to track where their ride is.

“I want to make sure again that they have some certainty as to when that ride will come, so they’re not waiting, wondering,” Darnell said.

Since January, 4-RIDE has had approximately 64,000 riders, according to statistics provided by University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard. On an average weeknight three hundred and fifty people use the service – and 400 hitch a ride on weekend nights. There are usually between 17 and 21 drivers operating at any time – figures that Darnell said show how overwhelmed the system is.

“The demand [has] just quite honestly far exceeded our capacity at this point, but we’re working hard to fix it,” Darnell said.

He said GW may need to increase the number of vans or drivers used, but he wants to look at the assessment from contractors on the issue before making changes.

Darnell said student input is a key factor in improving 4-RIDE, and has been in contact with Student Association President Jason Lifton to discuss ways to make the system more efficient. The issue of 4-RIDE was a hot-button topic during SA elections last February.

Lifton said he thinks that a lot of the issues with the 4-RIDE system come from the “bottlenecking” that occurs while students are on hold.

“Even if you had 200 vans running with only a limited number of people to dispatch them, you’re wasting resources because you can’t use them efficiently,” Lifton said. “An automated system would help make dispatching the vans more economical, putting the same number of vans to more efficient use.”

He added that automating the system would improve campus safety.

“If more students are able to use 4-RIDE, people will be safer when traveling around at night in the Foggy Bottom area,” Lifton said.

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