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When Safety Doesn...t Come First

Thomas W. Hay

SafeRide. The idea behind it is brilliant: It helps students living further away to get to campus faster. It allows students to get around in the winter without having to brave the cold or walk on sidewalks and streets that can be hazardous to traverse when iced over. It acts as a designated driver, providing a safe means of transportation to students if they have been drinking. Finally, it is complemented by a convenient online tracking system (ShuttleTrack) that lets the user know where it is going next. In principle, SafeRide is a beneficial service for the MIT community.

In practice, however, SafeRide is flawed. First, it simply does not run on time. The Web site warns that heavy traffic, weather, and van maintenance can all cause shuttle delays. “Can delay” implies occasional inconveniences, but SafeRide is always late. MIT’s workload is hard enough; students in living groups off-campus do not need the added stress of having to rely on SafeRide to get to class on time. With a total of 25 fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups located in Boston and six located in Cambridge or Brookline, an inefficient SafeRide hurts a substantial part of the MIT undergraduate population.

The ShuttleTrack web site is supposed to solve the tardiness problem by letting riders know when SafeRide will arrive at a certain stop. However, in my experience, ShuttleTrack is rarely functional. Sometimes, the site gives no position for SafeRide, other times the position of the shuttle is inaccurate. A good first step would be to make sure the GPS in each shuttle is operating correctly.

MIT should make SafeRide a priority since it is so widely used by the student body. If shuttles need maintenance or new equipment, MIT should quickly accommodate those needs. MIT is a leader in engineering and information technology; the fact that we can not even track the SafeRide shuttles consistently using widespread and proven technology such as GPS is embarrassing.

Another problem is overcrowding on board shuttles. Recently, MIT has tried to fix this problem by adding more buses (that are bigger than the traditional SafeRide shuttles) to certain routes. This has been a huge help in alleviating overcrowding, but more can be done. I have seen students get kicked off of SafeRide because there is physically not enough room for them to fit on. This creates two problems. First, students that can not fit on SafeRide are forced to wait up to 30 minutes (depending on the day of the week and the time) for the next shuttle. Second, on weekends, overcrowding forces students to walk across the ill-lit Harvard Bridge, which can be risky late at night. The purpose of SafeRide is defeated if an intoxicated student is kicked off of SafeRide and then has to walk back to campus or his fraternity. SafeRide is supposed to provide a means of safe transportation. When the students who need it most are getting kicked off and instead forced to walk across the bridge, then SafeRide has failed its purpose.

To solve this problem, drivers should not try to pack as many students on as possible, as that would create an unsafe situation. Rather, during hours when students are traveling in peak numbers into Boston and Cambridge, there should be more shuttles operating so students do not have to wait for another SafeRide to come.

An alternate solution is to create a bridge shuttle. Since many students use SafeRide just to get across the bridge, a shuttle that just goes back and forth across the bridge every ten minutes or so would be very useful. A bridge shuttle would decrease overcrowding on the Boston East and West SafeRides and prevent students from having to cross the frigid Harvard Bridge in the winter or if they are under the influence.

SafeRide has all the potential to be an effective and efficient means to get around campus. All MIT needs to do is put a little more money into the program and make sure ShuttleTrack consistently works. With the addition of a bridge shuttle, many of the problems related to overcrowding could be eliminated. These suggestions could be easily implemented by MIT and would make SafeRide live up to its name and purpose If you agree or see any other flaws with SafeRide, let MIT know by calling 617-258-6510 or by sending an e-mail to mitparking@mit.edu.

Thomas W. Hay is a member of the class of 2010.