How ride-sharing tech fine tunes college transportation

Apps give students more information and help drivers find fastest routes

College transportation’s past of late-night campus shuttles taking students home along fixed routes may now be as quaint as using a pay phone to request campus transit rides.

Higher ed leaders are teaming up with ride-sharing companies to use mobile technology to make college transportation routes more efficient. And the apps these services provide give students more accurate information about when they’ll be picked up by a campus rideshare service.

Northeastern University in Boston recently contracted with Via to enhance the school’s RedEye van service, which uses five vehicles to transport off-campus students from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m., seven days per week.

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“It helps drivers figure out the most efficient way to take multiple riders to multiple locations,” says Staff Sgt. John Farrell, who is in charge of crime prevention and community engagement at the Northeastern University Police Department, which operates the shuttle.

“Without this app, it was up to the drivers to use their knowledge of local Boston streets to determine what would be the best route to take 12 people to about eight different locations,” Farrell adds.

RedEye gave around 1,300 Northeastern users about 45,000 rides last school year. When a student uses the app to request a ride, it lets them know when the van will arrive, he says.

Northwestern University in Chicago launched a similar overnight college transportation program with Via when classes began this September. Students there say the free campus transit helps low-income students in particular, since they can’t afford more expensive transit alternatives.

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Via also operates a campus transit service with Harvard University.

Rides can be operated by Via’s independent drivers or university personnel, says Dillon Twombly, Via’s chief revenue officer.

Fixed-route campus transit may no longer be necessary because the app will let shuttle drivers know where riders need (and don’t need) to be picked up, Twombly says.

“When you think about night and weekend service, knowing where vehicles are and when you’re getting picked up provides more safety and security,” he says. “It’s a much better rider experience and allows universities to control what their service looks like.”

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Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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