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Changes In University Transit Service Schedule, Debut Of ‘Saferide’ To Enhance Student Safety On Nights, Weekends

August 21, 2003 -- More frequent nighttime and weekend bus service and a more focused escort service, renamed “SafeRide,” are among the elements the University is introducing this month to address student security issues.

A committee of students, faculty and administrators recommended the changes after a two-year study of the University’s Escort Service. Heavy ridership in recent years had slowed response times, leading to many complaints from stranded students and staff.

The Escort Service was founded in the 1970s to provide a safe alternative to walking alone at night. The University Police Department joined in the management of the service in the late 1980s. In response to a 1997 attack on a student in the Venable neighborhood, the service’s hours and operating area were expanded.

The result was a huge increase in ridership, from approximately 6,600 riders in 1995 to approximately 52,600 in 2002. The boom led to staffing challenges, taxed the service’s vans and strained the Police Department’s budget. Waits for a ride climbed as high as 45 minutes at times, particularly on Thursday through Saturday nights.

“For many students … the Escort Service has become one of several transportation alternatives they might consider for normal evening use rather than an occasional resource when there is no other safe alternative,” the committee’s report concluded. “As it currently operates, the Escort Service is serving transportation needs for many students and safety needs for considerably fewer.”

William Sowers, Student Council’s vice president for administration and a committee member, said the changes should be well-received by students.

“I was ecstatic with the changes. Student Council couldn’t be happier,” he said. “It’s a major improvement in service, both during the day and at night.”

SafeRide debuts

SafeRide, which will begin operation Aug. 23 at midnight, is intended to focus more narrowly on the Escort Service’s original mission: providing a safe ride for individuals or small groups who would otherwise be forced to walk alone at night. An increase in after-dark bus service is intended to provide routine transportation and revised SafeRide procedures should improve the response time, so committee members foresee no drop-off in student safety.

“We don’t want to compromise student safety,” said V. Shamim Sisson, senior associate dean of students and chairwoman of the Escort Service Review Committee. “While at first blush it looks like cutting back, in several ways we are improving students’ ability to manage their own safety.”

Among the features of SafeRide:

  • Restricting the service hours to midnight through 6 a.m., when University Transit Service buses do not run.
  • Limiting service to groups of three or fewer. Rather than transporting a half-dozen students from dorms to the Corner, Sisson said, SafeRide is intended to serve the one student who decides she would rather return home than continue with a group to another location.
  • Limiting the service, whenever practical, to those who call for rides, rather than allowing students to hop on when they discover the van stopped nearby.

In addition, officials plan to urge students to make transportation arrangements part of their planning before venturing out at night, Sisson said.

Continuing the former Escort Service as it had been running may have required doubling the resources devoted to it, the committee found, including hiring additional drivers (uniformed security officers) and student “shotgun rider” assistants and purchasing additional vans, the committee found.

The new SafeRide system and the changes to University Transit Service hours provide “an optimum combination of services and resources,” Sisson said.

Enhanced bus service
Changes to the UTS schedule, which take effect Aug. 25, are the most extensive since the current routes were introduced in the fall of 1984, said Rebecca White, director of Parking and Transportation.

The biggest change: buses on the workhorse Blue/Orange Route will come along much more frequently at night during “full service” (when classes are in session during the fall and spring semesters). Buses on the Blue/Orange Route will run every 12 minutes from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. on weekdays and from 6 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. on weekends.

Previously, Blue/Orange Route buses ran every 10 minutes during the day, but only every 20 minutes after approximately 6 p.m. The hope is that students will now view UTS buses as a more attractive option for routine nighttime transportation, White said.

The Grounds Loop also will run more frequently, with buses coming every 15 minutes instead of every half-hour. The route will no longer link Scott Stadium with the hospital. Instead, it will turn down Fontaine Avenue, cut through the Piedmont faculty housing area, stop at Runk Hall and turn back toward Central Grounds. (There will be a special run from Piedmont and Runk to the hospital at 7:20 a.m. and 7:32 a.m., and Blue route buses running from the hospital to the stadium will now be routed through Piedmont and Runk, providing service every 12 minutes.)

The changes in the Grounds Loop and the Blue/Orange Routes will send nine buses per hour through Central Grounds and the most densely populated student areas, and provide more service along McCormick Road during busy class changes.
Other UTS service changes include:

  • Making permanent the “Saturday Shopping Run” piloted in the spring after a request from Student Council. On non-football Saturdays from 2:15 p.m. until the last run at 11:15 p.m., one UTS bus per hour will run from Tuttle dorm, down McCormick Road and up Emmet Street and U.S. 29, stopping at Kroger, K-Mart, Seminole 4 Theatres, Giant, Fashion Square Mall and Albemarle Square.
  • Making permanent an early morning Nursing Clinical Shuttle from the Rugby Road area to the Medical Center to help students arrive at their morning clinicals. Beginning at 6:35 a.m. at Beta Bridge, the bus runs north along Rugby Road to Grady Avenue, Madison/Preston avenues and 14th Street before arriving at the hospital in time for a 7 a.m. commitment.
  • Weekend service will begin at noon, instead of 11 a.m. previously. Weekend Blue/Orange buses will run at 20-minute intervals until 6 p.m., then switch to the new 12-minute schedule.
  • The Stadium-Hospital Shuttle will end 40 minutes earlier than previously, at 7:24 p.m. Employees whose shifts end at 7 p.m. and miss the 7:24 shuttle may catch a Blue route bus from the hospital to the stadium at 7:30 or every 12 minutes thereafter.

Additional changes will be made when the new Emmet/Ivy parking garage opens in late October or early November.

All of these changes will increase the total number of weekly service hours from 1,450 to about 1,495. White estimated the cost of implementing the changes at about $50,000.

“I think we’re improving a lot of things for a very small increase,” she said.

For more information on the bus route changes, including schedules, see http://www.virginia.edu/parking/bus/enhance.html.

Contact: Dan Heuchert, (434) 924-7676

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (434) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (434) 924-7550.

SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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Last Modified: Thursday, 21-Aug-2003 13:17:46 EDT
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