University of Iowa's Nite Ride program sees surge in ridership

Program has increased 400-fold since 2008

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BACKGROUND

IOWA CITY — With the issue of sexual assault front and center on the University of Iowa campus — and with criticism swirling around her response — UI President Sally Mason in 2014 rolled out a “six-point plan” to combat sexual violence.

One of those points focused on improving prevention and education efforts, including adding a second Nite Ride van for late-night pickups across campus. In March 2014 Mason authorized spending $54,789 on a new 14-passenger van that — as with the other one already in circulation — would offer free transportation to women on campus from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Bill Searls, associate director with the UI Department of Public Safety, at the time said the goal was to reduce wait times and serve more students.

WHAT’S HAPPENED SINCE

The second Nite Ride van has accomplished exactly what officials hoped it would — bumping up ridership numbers and ratcheting down wait times. In the 2015 calendar year, the first full year with two vans, the Nite Ride program notched 33,564 rides.

That is nearly 30 percent more than the 25,931 rides logged in 2014. And it’s more than 2.5 times the 2013 ridership total of 13,387.

“People are using it, and they seem to like it,” UI community outreach officer Alton Poole said.

In 2008, the first full year of the Nite Ride program, the single van provided 8,091 rides, indicating use of the service has increased nearly 400 percent. “That’s spectacular,” Poole said.

The UI Department of Public Safety’s 19 security officers drive the two Nite Ride vans, which each cost $50,618 a year to maintain, Poole said. The drivers never check identification of their riders, who can call for pickup from any UI academic building, parking lot or ramp.

Poole said the more than $101,000 annual expense for maintaining the two vehicles is worth the security they provide.

“The ridership numbers let us know we are being effective in providing a viable service,” he said.

Although, he said, officials don’t know for sure if the two vans are meeting the needs of the UI campus. Adding a third van might drive up numbers further, meaning two vans were not enough.

At this time, however, the campus doesn’t have plans to fund another Nite Ride van, and Poole said officers are doing their best to serve the most students possible with what they have.

“The best thing we can do is to try and provide the best service we can,” Poole said.

To request a ride, call (319) 384-1111.

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