Ride-hailing company Lyft has partnered with the University of Texas to begin offering free late-night rides to students from the campus to several residential areas.
Named Sure Ride, the one-year pilot program operates daily from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m., a time period when UT’s shuttle buses are not running. Its purpose, the university said, is to create a safe option for students to get home.
“Places like the (UT) student activity center are open until 3 a.m. This gives students the opportunity for them to access all of the things the university offers and access them in a safe way,” said Bobby Stone, director of the university’s Parking and Transportation Services . “This is not only a vehicle access, but a safe way to get that access and get home. Safety is a focus (at UT).”
Students can use the Lyft app to request a ride from campus to residential locations around UT, including West Campus, Lake Austin, Crossing Place, North Riverside, Lake Shore, Red River, Intramural Fields and Far West areas. All of those locations fall along regular UT shuttle routes.
The program will be used in conjunction to the Lyft Line service, which operates like a bus system to pick up and drop off various riders along a similar route.
Any riders who depart from the campus to the above locations will be given free credits in their Lyft accounts. In order to receive the credits, students have to sign up on the Lyft app using the same email that is listed for them in the university directory.
The university has for more than a year looked to improve late-night safety measures after a student, Haruka Weiser, was killed on campus in April 2016 as she was leaving the university’s Winship Drama Building at about 9:30 p.m.
UT initially started the Sure Walk program where students can request an escort to walk them home late at night. Now, it has expanded that program to students who don’t live on campus and need a ride home.
Sure Ride drivers are not being vetted beyond what Lyft already does to background drivers, Stone said. Lyft’s vetting includes a county, state and federal background and social security check, but it does not include a fingerprint background check.
Parking and Transportation Services has allocated $75,000 to pay for the program until next August, according to Stone. Since Sure Ride is a pilot program, UT will examine its effectiveness after a year and decide whether it will continue to be used.
About 2,000 students so far have registered for the Sure Ride, Stone said, and the university believes up to 10,000 students could use the program during the next year. Roughly 17,000 have used the Sure Walk program.
Lyft and UT began working on this partnership more than a year ago, Lyft’s regional manager Aaron Fox said. But the program was delayed after Lyft, along with ride-hailing competitor Uber, left the Austin market in May 2016 after both companies would not accept ride-hailing regulations by the city that included a fingerprint background check.
The companies returned this past May after a statewide ride-hailing law wiped out Austin’s local ordinance.
“We serve the (UT) students all day long, especially at night,” Fox said. “As soon as we came back to the market, this was one of our first calls and top priorities. There’s obviously a recent history at UT that made safety a top priority for the entire community.”
UT fielded offers from Uber, Ride-Austin and Lyft for a partnership. The university ultimately chose Lyft because of the company’s Lyft Line offer, as well as a price that was “incredibly attractive,” Stone said.
If the university chooses to keep the program after the pilot is over, it will again request offers from companies for a long-term partnership, Stone added.
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