Margot Besnard: Why GW should partner with Uber

Media Credit: Cartoon by Sophie McTear | Design Editor

If I’m walking back to my residence hall at night and I start to feel unsafe, how do I get a ride? Thankfully, I’ve never felt like I was in serious danger on or near GW’s campus, but if I ever did, I’d request an Uber – not a 4-RIDE.

If students do feel unsafe near or on campus, officials recommend they use 4-RIDE. But the truth is, I don’t think I can count on that system as an efficient or reliable option.

At the start of the month, the University of Florida followed in the footsteps of GW’s peer school the University of Southern California and entered into a partnership with Uber to supplement its safe-ride program – a step GW should also take to provide students with a dependable option for getting home.

Why? Simply put, it’s fast: Newsweek reported that the median response time for Uber in D.C. is three and a half minutes. Its smartphone app that uses GPS technology to connect riders and drivers is easily accessible on my phone, and I can walk toward the car as I see it coming on the map.

Senior Associate Vice President for Safety and Security Darrell Darnell told me through a spokesman that “4-RIDE is designed to be used as a security escort for students who feel unsafe and need a ride immediately or for students who need to get to a location on campus at night, but would otherwise have to go there alone.”

But in practice, it takes me several minutes to even request a ride. I can call an operator, or I can sign in to fill out the four-question form online or on the GW mobile app.

There’s no way to know how long I’ll have to wait for a ride before I request it. By contrast, I can see how many minutes away an Uber car is as soon as I open the app. All 4-RIDE does is send a text when my vehicle is en route, and I have no way of knowing when it has arrived. Darnell has said in the past that the goal is for students to get a ride within 15 minutes of calling for one – a far cry from Uber’s three-minute window.

The only advantage of 4-RIDE now is that it’s free – but that means students who can’t afford a service like Uber are left without a reliable, efficient option. University spokesman Kurtis Hiatt declined to comment on whether GW would be open to exploring a partnership with Uber.

At UF, the restrictions are simple: Students who enter a code provided by the student government are eligible to request an Uber from Wednesday to Saturday between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. They receive a 50 percent discount on their rides. The new partnership is not replacing UF’s security service, but rather supplementing it at peak hours.

At USC, students complained of long wait times and unreliability from their campus van service, prompting that school to partner with Uber in January. Whenever wait periods exceed 15 minutes, students are forwarded to the Uber app and the trip is free. Rides taken through Uber’s programs at USC and UF are only discounted if they begin and end on or around campus, similar to 4Ride’s service area at GW.

Students have called attention to 4-RIDE’s inefficiency for years. Most recently, Student Association President-elect Andie Dowd campaigned on improving 4-RIDE to make it more like Uber. In her platform, she suggested implementing TapRide – an app in place at Northwestern University, another peer school – as one possible option, describing it in The Hatchet’s editorial board’s endorsement hearing as “Uber-style technology.”

When I asked Dowd’s thoughts about partnering with Uber directly, she told me in an email, “It is an interesting idea, but I think it’s important to be realistic with our goals. It is definitely something that we will look into and research, and we would love to learn more about the program.”

Many students already know, like and use Uber. Its technology is superior, and when it needs to be upgraded, users simply update the app. Dowd should look to other universities that are partnering with Uber for examples of programs to provide students with an effective safe-ride option.

Michelle Garcia, the associate director of transit at USC, told me that the program there is funded by the University but her office isn’t allowed to release specific cost numbers under the terms of their contract with Uber. That means that if GW were to enter into a similar partnership, it may have to foot some of the costs.

Uber spokesman Taylor Bennett did not comment on whether Uber would be interested in exploring a partnership specifically with GW, but did write in an email that the company is “constantly exploring new opportunities to provide value to our users and positively impact their local communities.”

Even though I’ve never felt unsafe on GW’s campus, many do, and those students deserve a reliable option to get them home safe.

Margot Besnard, a sophomore majoring in political science, is a Hatchet opinions writer. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.