NAU pumps the brakes on Safe Ride

Last month, the late-night shuttle service known as Safe Ride was shut down. The last day of service was Sept. 9. For 12 years, the buses provided students with a safe method of transportation both on campus and around town, but NAU has chosen to stop them indefinitely.

Safe Ride was a charter service, meaning it was provided upon request and paid for by an outside department or student group. The service was available for students that sought transportation from downtown Flagstaff to campus Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Erin Stam, the director of Parking and Shuttle Services, stated the program is being evaluated by NAU’s administration.

“The conversations under review have included the intent of the program, who is being serviced, where are they looking to go and what other options may provide more service to more students,” said Stam in an email.

Stam also said it was too early to share details regarding a replacement for Safe Ride, but says plans are underway to identify another weekend transit option.

“I expect there will continue to be a safe ride option, it just may look different than the one provided historically,” Stam said in an email. “I think there may be other ways of providing a weekend transit option that will service more students.”

Stam further explained the program usage had diminished significantly over the last two years. At its peak, there were 200-300 students each night, and two to three buses a night were needed to accommodate all of those requesting rides.

However, in the last couple of years, there were less than 100 students each night, and most of the rides were within the campus. On the first night this year, there were 23 riders, all traveling on-campus only and no one after 12:30 p.m.

Another issue was there were fewer student drivers for the buses, as they were required to have a commercial driver’s license and to sign up for charters. Although it provided a free transit option for students to go between campus and downtown, the pickup and drop off locations were limited.

Stam says their department has not collected data to assess effectiveness of the program regarding safety and compared to those who did not use the service.

One repercussion of NAU ending Safe Ride has been some students becoming concerned for their safety and security.

Brianna Shinn, junior creative media and film major, was one of many concerned students and shared her perspective.

“I felt like it [Safe Ride] made students feel more secure, especially if they live far away. If someone doesn’t have a car or a friend to call, somebody would be there to get them home safely. It should be the responsibility of NAU and Rita Cheng to keep students safe on their campus,” said Shinn.

She added that Safe Ride was a better transportation method compared to other services which cost money, such as Uber.

Without Safe Ride, Shinn said she was worried that there would be more cases of violence and sexual assault on campus.

Despite the buses no longer running, there is another program still available for students who are worried about their safety and security while traversing town.

Currently there is a service known as Safe Walk, where the police can escort students around campus after dark. According to the NAUPD webpage, the program provides escort services from 9:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m. Thursday through Saturday and 8:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. Sunday through Wednesday.

There are many ways that Safe Ride’s vacancy could be filled. Shinn believed that Safe Walk could be one of them, as it is a program that few are aware of.

“I think there should be more publicity about Safe Walk and getting the word out should be the responsibility of the campus police department. It shouldn’t be on shuttle service to keep students safe at night. Now that this program has been discontinued, it’s a loss, but the slack must be picked up somewhere,” Shinn said.

Stam said Parking and Shuttle Services have consulted with ASNAU and Student Affairs, and have agreed that since Homecoming and Family Weekend see more ridership due to more social events on and off campus, Safe Ride will be provided on those specific weekends.

“I hope students can understand some decisions are very difficult but necessary given all the details,” Stam said.