Pitt’s SafeRider Services Frustrates and Endangers Students — Once Again

Each year Pitt receives almost $3.5 million from its undergraduate body to pay for services like shuttles and the SafeRider service.

While each student pays a security, safety, and transportation fee of $180 every year, some students have had upsetting experiences using the shuttle service. 

The frustration appears to be nothing new.

Fifteen years ago, in 2007, students lamented the service for “stranding” them in the cold. In 2016, SGB attempted to overhaul the SafeRider service after numbers dropped, and as recently as March this year, SGB listened to students express their concerns for the SafeRider’s poor service.

“When SafeRider came about I was really really excited,” said Isha Shah, a sophomore finance major.

As a female living off campus who often travels to her apartment from the library late at night, she worries a lot about the dangers of the city. She mentioned one incident that occurred less than a block away from her home in which two gunmen robbed a local store, one with an AK-47 style rifle. 

“I think I have a very valid reason to be worried,” Shah said.

To ease her fears getting home, Shah said he uses the SafeRider service. But she added that she’s had poor experiences. 

According to information from Pitt’s website: “SafeRider provides complimentary transportation during the evening and early morning hours when special non-emergency needs arise,” but does not provide “travel on an established bus or shuttle route.” 

“I always get really anxious because I know that the SafeRider’s gonna tell me no,” Shah said because of her close proximity to the shuttle route along Forbes Ave.

Shah said she’s disappointed with the unreliable and time-consuming shuttles that don’t even drop students off directly in front of their residences. 

During the very late hours of the night, walking even small distances can be dangerous, especially for young female students. When it comes to the shuttles, while “real-time tracking” is available, “Route times are subject to change.” 

Like Shah, Carolyn Fochek, a sophomore sociology major at Pitt, has been denied SafeRider’s services in the past.

She lives on upper campus and during a period of time when the shuttles did not pass her street due to construction, the SafeRider driver refused to drive her multiple times. 

“It was just a very toxic environment,” Fochek said, “and I was very avoidant of using SafeRider because it didn’t feel comfortable for me to have to justify using the SafeRider to someone who was responsible for driving me.”

Like Fochek, Shah’s experience with the SafeRider app is often unreliable and uncertain because of cancellations and unclear communication. As a result, Shah feels like she can never really depend on either the shuttle or SafeRider service. 

Fochek has also had problems with a lack of communication.

“Once I got a notification that my SafeRider was gonna be there within like three minutes, so I grabbed my stuff, walked outside, and by the time I got out there, the SafeRider left,” Fochek said. 

Another time, Fochek had to wait outside late at night for the SafeRider to show. 

“The problem is I would get a notification that they’re approaching in a few minutes, and then it would be like fifteen minutes waiting outside in the rain or the cold in order to get this SafeRider that I could’ve just waited inside a little bit longer for,” Fochek said. “It just wasn’t a good situation to be in as a student waiting for a driver at night.”

Unfortunately, even when Shah was able to successfully book a SafeRider, the driver sometimes made her feel uncomfortable, and she isn’t the only student who feels that way. 

“For a long time, the Z-trip safe driver would tell me I had to sit in the front seat,” Fochek said. “He would ask me a lot of questions that I just did not feel like I needed to answer.” 

On one instance, Fochek witnessed a SafeRider refuse service to a girl who was visibly very drunk after a party.

“We all watched her boyfriend carry her off,” Fochek said, “because this driver refused to take her.” 

Driving safety is another one of Fochek’s concerns.

“Sometimes the drivers do not drive safely,” Fochek said. “I remember once I was sitting in the back of my SafeRider and my driver was on the phone looking at a map or looking at a message or something…Other times they’re not adequately stopping at stop signs.” 

Fochek said she believes that there are solutions that can help make the SafeRider and shuttle services better for both the students and the drivers. In her eyes, the University needs to provide better pay and working conditions for the demanding jobs they do, as well as hire more drivers. 

“These drivers are overworked, underpaid, and under-appreciated,” Fochek said. “I don’t blame any of the drivers for how they’ve responded to the conditions they’ve been put in, but I do hope we can rectify it.”

Fochek also imagines that there might be a simpler and more efficient system for late night shuttle services. As it is now, late night shuttles often have the drivers running routes in circles all night, and there are usually very few students during these hours. 

“The late night shuttles that run a specific route all night long are just not valuable to the overall late night transportation system,” Fochek said. 

Instead, she believes that the shuttles should either stay at Hillman during the night, where students can hop on at any point to be driven to their destination, or the shuttles can work as SafeRiders and be requested through the app. 

While it’s clear some students are not satisfied with the transportation services they are receiving at a cost, it’s not so clear what the university is doing and should be doing about it. Ultimately, it comes down to the financial needs of students and the way drivers are being treated.

“It is just so frustrating to me to see the school pretending to care for students when in reality it’s just another thing to attract more tuition dollars and attract parents attention,” Shah said. “But when it actually comes down to it they’re not willing to provide this service.”

The “false promise” of the SafeRider service is what angers Shah the most.

“I think what makes me the most upset is the fact that Pitt advertises this service as something that’s out there to protect students and how they care about our safety. Each semester in my bill I see a transportation fee of I think $200 dollars, but then I’m seeing not only incredibly unreliable shuttle but I’m being denied the SafeRide service,” Shah said. “If you’re going to offer a service then either offer it well or don’t do it at all.”

“These drivers are working up to seven days a week until 4 or 5 a.m. These are adults with families of their own. And these drivers are not making enough money,” Fochek said. “We need to make sure we’re respecting them as people.”

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