The University Police Department launched the Safe Ride Home app, which serves both shuttle and late night users, through the platform TapRide.
TapRide tracks Safe Ride Home shuttle vans live on their routes during the day — previously supported through an app called Ride System — and allows students to request rides back to campus during late night hours.
University Police Chief Clarence Green said the Safe Ride Home team has been working on an app for two to three years, testing different app providers. In January, the team decided on TapRide and began developing the app.
Safe Ride and Student Dispatching Supervisor Brooke Richards said beta testing began in July to work out any flaws in the system. The team initiated a soft launch in August, having riders who heard about the app through word of mouth test the app.
The official launch was announced on UPD’s Twitter Oct. 2.
Richards said one of the reasons UPD chose TapRide is the ability to change routes, boundaries and times directly without going through the company.
“As we got feedback about that, we could kind of learn what areas are kind of considered hot spots,” Richards said. “The system can track that for us so that we know to have more vans in those areas so wait times are reduced.”
In her two years as Safe Ride supervisor, Richards has placed an emphasis on reducing wait times. Achieving that goal, the average wait time is down to 9 minutes and 15 seconds this semester from 13 minutes when she first started.
Green said getting wait time down is key because the more time students are waiting, the more likely they are to make an unsafe choice or be put in an unsafe position.
He said his main goal for the program, outside of the app, is to gain as much external funding through grants and donations as possible to keep expanding and support more riders.
“My goal is to make sure that we keep pushing the resources so that the program can be taken to the next level,” Greens said. “I want a program that’s going to help us reduce DWI’s (driving while intoxicated), and that’s what we know that this program is doing.”
Green said since the implementation of the Safe Ride Home program in 2004, DWIs on campus and in Maryville have dropped 65%. In the past year, Safe Ride Home has given 20,000 rides to students.
Richards said her goal for the app was to have 35% of Safe Ride Home riders using the app by Jan. 1, but during the soft launch, 32% of ride requests came from the app rather than calls. In the week since the official launch, 58% of ride requests have come through the app.
Aiming even higher, Richards said she wants 70% of riders using the app by the end of the spring 2020 semester.
“We’re hoping to get people as excited about it as we are,” Richards said. “I think that it’s such a unique program for our University, so if we can get as many people to use it as possible, that works for me.”
Richards said the app allows the Safe Ride Home system to be more efficient and more accurate. By having access to a student’s GPS location on their phone, Richards said the driver does not have to rely on students who may be lost, intoxicated or unfamiliar with Maryville to give their location.
She said the app also allows users to track their ride when it’s on its way, similar to rideshare apps like Uber and Lyft, so they have a better idea of when it will arrive and where.
Richards and Green gave credit to the Safe Ride Home team, which consists of more than 30 students, for helping decide on which platform to use and getting the app ready to launch.
“I think we have a tremendous amount of folks who really work with (Richards) and support all of the efforts that she’s doing to really make it go,” Green said.
Green specifically pointed out the two student managers, Westley Bertha and Joshua Williams, for working so closely with Richards since January on development and marketing.
“We have a very diverse team that really represents all sections of the institution, whether that be from on campus to international to domestic minorities to majority students,” Green said. “With those students giving us feedback, we have a rich representation of our student body just in talking with our 30-40 members who work for our team.”