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Safe Ride Needs Reliable, Wider Service

Column by Erik S. Balsley
sports editor

If I could use one word to describe MIT's campus, it would be "long." Walking and biking are two convenient ways to get around campus, but when they aren't feasible - because of distance or safety - things become a bit more difficult. Safe Ride is a good alternative means of transportation, but let's face it - it's just not cutting it and needs some major work.

The need for a more convenient means of transportation about our nearly two-mile campus was noted recently in a column by A. Arif Husain '97 entitled "Monorail Will Expand Creative Potential" [Nov. 26, 1996]. Despite the charm of the idea, I somehow doubt the Institute would be willing to risk its bond rating on funding such a multimillion dollar project.

With or without a monorail, the campus needs to think about ways to transport people about the campus. A round-the-clock expansion of Safe Ride - which has become in effect MIT's transportation system - and larger vehicles may help alleviate this problem. It may also be a low-cost way to solve the intracampus transportation dilemma as well.

Recently, I was walking along Cambridge Street in Boston when a small bus passed by on the street. When I looked up to observe the little bus, I was shocked to realize it was painted red and on the side bore a sign saying "Harvard University Shuttle Services." As it passed, I realized that I had seen similar buses rolling through Harvard Square. Upon returning home I called a friend up river, and she told me that the buses are a shuttle service - the "HarvardShuttle" - that runs for most of the day every day. That includes daylight hours.

Imagine a Cambridgeside Galleria Bus that would run around our campus. It would be able to carry more passengers than the existing Safe Ride. In addition, expanded daylight hours would be a great benefit to the campus. If a route were extended to include the MIT Museum and outer areas of campus that manage to appear in tourist guides, it would help make our campus a bit more friendly to outside visitors. Instead of having to ask for directions to the hard to find MIT Museum for instance, visitors could board a little red bus and be dropped off at its big red door.

However, before such an expansion could occur, some of the problems of the existing Safe Ride need to be addressed. Safe Ride ridership appears to have leveled off or dropped, the vans tend to run behind schedule, and some drivers make the "safe ride" feel like a suicide run from hell.

These observations are colored by my recent dependence on Safe Ride. Because of a knee injury, I often find it difficult to walk back to my room at Tang Hall at night. To prevent my tendon from feeling like a plucked rubber band, I began to to take Safe Ride home each night. Several nights, I had to wait over 30 minutes for the van to arrive, often wet in cold snow or rain. In addition, some nights I found that the safety belt came to good use as the driver made the trip down Amherst Alley at what felt like 55 miles per hour.

When I entered the van, I was shocked at how few people were riding it or boarding it at the stops. However, when it is raining or snowing, it is almost impossible to get a spot on any Safe Ride, especially the two that run across the Harvard Bridge. When weather permits, most people like to walk. But at night or during bad weather, people would like to be sheltered from the elements. Convenience also plays a role in Safe Ride usage.

When the shuttles run on time, people can count on a reliable source of transportation and may think to use it more. Waits like the ones I had to endure do not make people want to use the service. The other thing that may be affecting ridership is the size of the vehicles. I dare anyone to try to catch a Safe Ride across the river on a rainy night. Chances are you won't get on.

Expanding the Safe Ride fleet with small buses would allow people to use a more reliable and guaranteed system of transportation. Increasing the driving ability of some drivers may also help. Increasing hours of operation would also help fix the problems of getting around such a long campus. In short, we need a larger, safer, more convenient Safe Ride.