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Safe Ride Program users will now have to use the TapRide app or call University Police to access the service to limit contact and aid with sanitation of vehicles.

The Safe Ride Home program, offered through Northwest's University Police Department, has undergone changes during COVID-19 mitigation.

Not only is the service following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines by requiring drivers and riders to wear face coverings, but Safe Ride is also putting a pause on their consistently running shuttle routes around Maryville.

Students still have access to the shuttle stops, but they are now required to use the TapRide app or call UPD to get in touch with a driver to use the service.

The TapRide app is offered on Android and iOS, and it functions when the Safe Ride Home program is operating. Service hours are remaining the same as years past, with their late night taxi stops going from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays and until 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. This year the shuttle stops will have the same hours, running 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays and 12 p.m. to 4p.m., but the student will need to use the TapRide app to contact a driver.

UPD Lt. Amanda Cullin, who oversees the Safe Ride Home service, explained how the service is changing to still be helpful yet safe during the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is an express service that transports individuals or a few people who live and learn together from one location to another,” Cullin said. “Drivers will disinfect between rides, increase ventilation and have hand sanitizer available along with the face covering requirement.”

Safe Ride Student Manager Josh Williams said the changes are small, but important, procedures for drivers.

“The only big difference is having to wear a mask in the van. Other than that, not going to each shuttle stop and staying local, and when we get a call from the TapRide app, that’s when we go. It’s a lot less driving on ourselves and the vans,” Williams said.

Even though the drivers are doing extra sanitation, Williams said some students might feel uncomfortable using the service and not social distancing with a stranger.

“It’s the close proximity,” freshman Mason Ward said. “You never know if someone just so happened to have been around someone else who may have been exposed, especially if they don’t show any immediate signs of COVID.”

Freshman Faith McManemin has used the Safe Ride Home program within its first few weeks of operating since the COVID changes, and said that she didn’t have many concerns with her experience.

“Everyone in the van was wearing a mask, but the seats aren’t as far apart as they should be,” McManemin said. “I think the service is good and there’s no reason why people shouldn’t use their resources if they’re available and safe.”

On top of the changes that have been made to the execution of the service, the hiring process has undergone work to make it fit CDC guidelines. Students are still free to be hired this year to become drivers, but the face covering rule applies to all parts of the interview process as well as the rides.

Students can access the UPD page on the Northwest website for information about employment and general Safe Ride frequently asked questions.

The shuttle services will be the same time as well, but instead of running the shuttles, they are relying on the TapRide app for students to get in touch with drivers.

Through their changes of following the CDC guidelines, as well as more overall sanitation of the vehicles, the Safe Ride Home service continues to operate for students during the pandemic, with extra caution.

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