Wait times long and inconsistent, student feedback says

March 2018 | This is an article I wrote for MIT’s student newspaper about the school’s new shuttle program. View the original article here.

The MIT Parking and Transportation Office launched the SafeRide OnDemand Shuttle pilot program Feb. 12. The new service allows students to request pickup and drop off locations through an app.

The old SafeRide system, which will still run nightly from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m., has shuttles travel along fixed routes and make regular stops. The new OnDemand system will take effect starting 11 p.m., and students can use the TransLoc Rider app or access the online Rider OnDemand website with their Kerberos credentials to specify their locations.

The OnDemand shuttle system consists of three vans, each able to hold fourteen students. OnDemand operates on a ride-sharing system, meaning students will share the vans as they take their passengers to their various destinations. On its launch night, it completed 42 ride requests, according to Parking and Transportation Manager Tom Giannino.

The old fixed-route system meant that many students had to walk blocks to their residences. In addition, the buses were not allowed on certain streets in Boston, including Beacon Street where many FSILGs are, due to noise complaints by Boston residents, Giannino explains.

After negotiations with the Boston Transportation Department and residents in the area, the smaller OnDemand shuttles are allowed on these streets, so they can deliver students directly to their residences.

The OnDemand system was first proposed by former Undergraduate Association President Sophia Liu ’17 and former Vice President Daysi Gomez ’18.

The idea for the OnDemand system arose from student complaints about the SafeRide shuttle system being unreliable, often not coming on schedule or at all, current UA Vice President Alexa Martin ’19 said in an interview with The Tech.

The UA then reached out to the Vice President and Dean of Student Life, Suzy Nelson. The idea was developed in collaboration with the Parking and Transportation Office, the Office of Government and Community Relations, and the Graduate Student Council Transportation Subcommittee, with input from student focus groups.

While the OnDemand program was previously scheduled to launch in Sept. 2017, meetings with the city governments of Cambridge and Boston slowed the process down.

The OnDemand system is currently in a pilot phase and will be reviewed this coming June. UA President Sarah Melvin ’18 told The Tech in an interview that she encourages students to submit feedback if they’d like to see improvements. “We don’t want people to see this as a fixed solution that can’t adapt if it’s not meeting student needs,” Melvin said.

Students have already provided feedback to the UA. According to the UA minutes from a Feb. 21 meeting, some have said the OnDemand system is inefficient because the ride-sharing feature means wait times are generally long and inconsistent, and students often have to wait through many drop-offs. Students have also complained about the need for an app to use the service.

In an interview with The Tech, OnDemand driver Abraham Tedla shared his preference for the new system. He called it safer, since he takes students directly to their front door, and more efficient, as the shuttle doesn’t run without any passengers. Most of the time he only transports one passenger at a time.