University of Iowa expands Nite Ride to men

Fears about offering co-ed ride service abated after checking with other campuses

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IOWA CITY — A University of Iowa service that gives free, late-night rides to thousands of women a year in the interest of safety will now allow men on board also.

Changes to Nite Ride this fall — which include offering an app that lets passengers request rides over their smartphones — are driven by both advances in technology and shifts in the sexual assault climate, according to the UI Department of Public Safety.

Officials had raised concerns over opening the service to men, including the possibility that doing so might lead to further sexual harassment. But officials increasingly recognize that both women and men face safety risks on college campuses.

In the spring, after UI student Marcus Owens said he was assaulted in a racially-biased attack — a claim later found false — at least one professor asked the university to open its Nite Ride program to all “students of color” and UI Student Government promoted its SafeRide Taxi Service for all genders.

Student government for years has urged UI police to expand Nite Ride as universities across the country increasingly offer safe rides to men and women.

All that prompted UI public safety officials to reassess the program, said Alton Poole, community outreach officer with UI public safety.

UI police spoke with peers at other universities, including Maryland and Oregon, both of which offer late-night ride services for all genders, Poole said.

“After learning many of our peer institutions were offering a similar service, we decided to make the switch while also adding some additional security measures,” he said.

In addition to staffing the Nite Ride buses with security officers and equipping each with a security camera, UI police now will assign plainclothes officers to ride intermittently.

“If any misconduct is reported during a ride, the bus will be stopped immediately, police will be called and the incident will be investigated,” Poole said.

Nite Ride — which runs seven days a week from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. — began operating for the new academic year Wednesday. The two vans dedicated to the service picked up 56 people on the first night.

The university’s new Nite Ride app, called Transloc Rider, allows users to identify their location within the program boundaries — which stretch north to Park Road, east to Summit Street, south to Highway 6 and west to Hawkeye Park Road.

The application, which is used by 90 universities, lets passengers see in real time where the van is and when it’s expected to arrive. It also provides a security tool — as it requires students and staff to log in, allowing police to keep a record in case complaints are made.

The UI contract with Transloc Rider is $12,880, according to Poole.

Iowa State University on Thursday also announced a new Uber-style mobile app for its safety escort service. Under its new name, SafeRide ISU will continue offering free rides to anyone on campus — regardless of gender — between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.

ISU’s service last year provided more than 6,000 rides, and interim police Chief Aaron Delashmutt said the institution is adding one vehicle to its two-vehicle fleet.

UI’s Nite Ride service provided 33,564 rides in 2015, a huge spike from the 13,387 it gave in 2013. That jump likely was tied to the addition of a second 14-passenger van, which former UI President Sally Mason approved as part of her plan to combat sexual violence on campus.

That second van cost $54,789, and each van costs $50,618 a year to maintain, Poole said.

New UI freshman Dylan Benton, 18, said she absolutely will use Nite Ride if she’s headed home at night. As for sharing the ride with the opposite sex, Benton said she’s fine with it.

“If would be OK if a driver is there,” she said. “They could take charge if the situation seemed threatening.”

Iowa City-based taxi companies said they weren’t concerned about losing revenue from the expanded free service.

Roger Bradley, manager of Yellow Cab Iowa City, said he appreciates the university’s efforts to keep its campus safe.

“Students always like to save money, but the issue with Nite Ride would be how quickly could they respond?” he asked. “ ... There is still going to be a need, and they are still going to use cabs.”

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