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A Safe Ride Circuit Reviewed

By Eva Moy
News Editor

In response to the murder of Yngve K. Raustein '94, the Institute has sped up its review process of several safety programs. For example, there has been an increase in the number of patrols on campus and in the perimeter areas. Other issues, such as lighting and emergency telephone locations, are currently under review, according to Chief of Campus Police Anne P. Glavin.

The Safe Ride program is one of several programs under critical analysis by many different groups. The primary purpose of A Safe Ride is "to provide students with a safe ride after hours when they cross campus or [travel] around the perimeter areas," according to Glavin.

I rode both Safe Ride routes from 8 p.m. to 9:15 p.m. on Wednesday. The following is an account of my experiences mingled with information about the Safer Ride system.

8 p.m.: I arrived at 77 Massachusetts Ave., where there were a few people already waiting. One person said he had already been there for about 20 minutes.

In its first year of operation, about 25,000 people used A Safe Ride, according to Glavin. From January to August 1992, there have already been more than 31,000 riders, she said. She estimated that total ridership will exceed 50,000 by the end of the year.

"It's been a big success, but the present Safe Ride system is a victim of its own success," Glavin said.

This "suggests that we would have needed to do something anyway to expand capacity," said Director of Special Services Stephen D. Immerman. "The Raustein murder was a catalyst in many ways. It elevated the visibility of the issue."

Glavin said that the growth of A Safe Ride was foreseen from its outset. Many of the complaints cited in a recent safety review parallel the problems that were expected, she said.

8:05 p.m.: The Boston van arrives and picks up 10 people on their way to the various Boston living groups.

The first A Safe Ride van started its nighttime runs in April, 1991. It ran as an on-call service, relieving the overburdened police escort service which had preceded it. The Safe Ride van serviced students in Boston and Cambridge living groups.

The first van cost $20,000 and was paid for by the Department of Housing and Food Services. The provost's office covered the operational costs, including the drivers' salaries. MIT Campus Police provided radio equipment and dispatchers.

By September, plans were already being being made to add a second van and create two separate, fixed routes. Estimates showed that the Cambridge route would take 21 minutes and the Boston route would take 46 minutes.

In November, a second on-demand van was added to reduce waiting times, which was particularly important because some of the waiting areas were not safe.

By early December, the two routes were set in their current configuration.

8:12 p.m.: The van has dropped off all its passengers in the first four stops. The only people left on the van for the remainder of the ride are the driver, a driver-in-training, and me.

Safe Ride drivers must have a Massachusetts driver's license in good standing, a good driving record, and no criminal background, Glavin said.

They must also complete a two-week in-house training program, she added, where they receive information about topics such as the Campus Police department, the MIT community, the routes, and crime prevention programs and services.

In addition, there is continuous training and a safety-related driving course which the drivers are required to attend, said driver G. Scott Fleming. Drivers generally work four 4- to 5-hour shifts per week, he said.

Each van is equipped with two two-way radios, one of which is portable, Glavin said. Communication between the drivers and the Campus Police is a "primary issue of concern," she added. Drivers should report incidents immediately, but are not expected to act as police, Glavin said. She added that there have been no emergencies on A Safe Ride so far.

Fleming said he feels "no hazard about being in the van by myself."

8:30 p.m.: The Boston van arrives at 77 Massachusetts Ave. again, 25 minutes after it left. About a dozen people pack into the van. Once again, I wait at the bus stop, this time for the Cambridge van.

The average wait is 35 to 45 minutes for both routes, according to Glavin, adding that this is "too long." The shortest wait is about 25 minutes. "We recognize that this is a problem with the system."

Driver Anthony Chaves suggested that rush hour traffic contributes to the irregular schedules, especially on the Boston route.

Some other problems include the predictability of the vans, safety at some of the stops, and occasional instances when the van was full or didn't stop at its designated areas, Immerman added.

Ali Alavi '93, who rode on Wednesday night, suggested that A Safe Ride operate on a set schedule. He said he does not mind how long the route takes, "as long as there's a certain time that I can be there."

Beth Enderson G agreed, saying that although the waiting times might be longer, "I can plan my schedule around it." She also said that if Albany St. were lit better, she would not need a ride back to Edgerton House every night.

"It's a nice service," said Karl E. Keppeler '95. He added that "It's pretty fast going home" to Phi Sigma Kappa, about a five-minute ride. But because the ride back to campus can take up to 35 minutes, he said he usually walks.

"It's better to have it than not to," said John S. Piatkowski '93, who rides the Boston van several times each week. However, he added, "I certainly don't take it because of the safety."

8:44 p.m.: The Cambridge van arrives, and I get on with three other students. The van waits for a minute or two before leaving.

On the Cambridge route, Aaron C. Ashford '92 said that some of the stops would be safe if the drivers would stop for longer than just a few seconds.

In response, Fleming said that he will "pause long enough to see if anybody's coming" in the future. After some experience with the routes, he knows where people are waiting and where to look, he added.

Chaves added that there are some places where the van cannot stop for long because of the flow of traffic behind it.

8:46 p.m.: A student boards the van at McCormick Hall.

Like many other students I talked with Wednesday night, Ashford felt that the Institute could obtain one or two more vans, spreading the cost over all the students. Keppeler agreed, saying, "That wouldn't be significant enough that I would mind."

Enderson said it would be fair to distribute the costs of any additional vans over the student body -- even if all students do not use the service -- similar to the cost of Athena.

Other students feel that tuition is high enough that it should cover such costs.

8:52 p.m.: Two students get off at pika.

8:55 p.m.: The last rider gets off at Edgerton House. Once again, the driver and I are the only ones left on the van for the remainder of the route.

9:10 p.m.: The Cambridge van reaches the East Campus/Senior House stop. At this point, the driver receives a pickup request from pika. Along with Epsilon Theta and Zeta Beta Tau, pika is not part of the regular route, and students wishing to be picked up must call to request a stop.

9:13 p.m.: A radio dispatcher broadcasts an announcement: "Four black males with hooded sweatshirts with firearms" have been seen near building NW12. Two Campus Police cruisers whiz by where the van was stopped just a few moments ago. In a matter of minutes, the CPs have broadcast descriptions and the possible heading of the suspects, sent the two victims on their way to headquarters, and notified Cambridge police about the incident.

Just a few minutes before this incident, Chaves had been talking about how he sometimes felt unsafe during late-night routes. He also thought that the Safe Ride vans "should have mandatory [identification] checks" for students boarding the van.

9:16 p.m.: The Safe Ride van returns to 77 Massachusetts Ave.

A Safe Ride has had many changes since its inception 18 months ago. Many improvements to the current system are likely. A Committee on Institute Safety is currently reviewing the options and long-range implications of any possible changes. These plans will be the topic of the second half of this story.