WU partners with Uber to subsidize rides for students in areas surrounding campus

| Senior News Editor

Washington University will subsidize up to two Uber rides to and from campus per day for students living north and south of the Delmar Loop and in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhoods after entering into a contract with the ride-sharing company, Executive Vice Chancellor and Chief Administrative Officer Hank Webber wrote in an email to Student Life Sunday.

Screen Shot 2018-09-24 at 4.41.27 PMGraphic by Brandon Wilburn

The partnership, which will last until December, comes in response to a recent rise in crime around campus and, according to Webber, was the result of a larger conversation with law enforcement and administration on how to make campus safer.

With 33 carjackings reported in the St. Louis area in August and 14 reported so far in September, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police has labeled the recent carjackings a regional issue.

“We have experienced a very unusual crime spree, not on campus, but in the neighborhoods to the…south, north and east of campus,” Webber said. “I’ve been here 10 years. This has been by far the largest period of most concentrated incidents in any period of time, most of which were carjackings.”

According to Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Lori White, the partnership with Uber was planned in direct response to the increase in crime.

“We don’t quite know, but this will be very expensive: This will be hundreds of thousands of dollars at minimum between now and the end of December,” Webber said. “This is not an investment we would have made for convenience. Lots of people choose Uber for convenience. We’re doing this because of the concerns for safety.”

The University will not be limiting service for students to weekdays; however, during the weekend students will be limited to two trips per day. Additionally, tips on Uber are not expected and will not be subsidized by the University.

“We thought the number of incidents in this period of time called for a very strong response,” Webber said.

White has also sent out two emails to parents of students at the University.

“I always want to make sure that parents are aware of anything that we deem as critically important,” White said. “I would say that parents raised some very similar concerns that students have raised.”

Webber believes that the spike in crime is limited to the last two weeks and not to 2018 as a whole.

“It is my impression that this is not that we have had a large number of incidents in 2018,” Webber said. “We’ve had a very unusual number of incidents in a two-week period in 2018. We do not believe that there has been a significant increase in crime over this year versus other years. This is a very sharp pattern.”

New safety initiatives

In addition to partnering with Uber, Washington University Transportation Services worked with the Metro to add five more buses to the Green Line’s rotation in order to meet demand at peak morning hours. The Green Line Metro Bus serves the Danforth Campus, the Village, Lewis Center, Greenway Apartments, the 560 Music Center, the Lofts Apartments and the Big Bend MetroLink station. The University has also added another circulator to further ease congestion.

The Campus2Home Shuttle is also available to students and provides a safe ride home during the hours of 6 p.m. to 4 a.m. from the Danforth Campus to the same off-campus neighborhoods referenced above. Members of the University community need only show their university ID (or contractor affiliate work ID) in order to use the shuttle.

“We’re working on a better area map,” Glenn said. “I think that the thought is, talking with Student Affairs and some others, that we’ve seen students move kind of farther out of our designated patrol zones. So we want to have those areas well-documented, [to] know where our students, our community members are living.”

As announced in an email sent by Webber Sept. 18, part of the Overpass will now open earlier than expected on Oct. 8.

“We have done everything humanly possible to accelerate its completion,” Webber said. “We’ve [taken] actions that will increase cost with more overtime and it will be harder to complete…It’s expensive and it will make it more complicated, but it’s clearly the right step.”

Increased patrols

The Washington University Police Department has increased patrols in the neighborhoods north and south of Delmar Boulevard and in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood from seven to eight officers up to 12 to 14 officers. They patrol these areas from 4 p.m. to midnight.

“We’re getting a lot of positive feedback from students,” Glenn said. “I’ve had the opportunity to talk to several students who have said they noticed the increased patrol, and they’re very appreciative. We’re going to keep them up for the time being as we’re looking towards a more permanent solution.”

According to Glenn, WUPD’s “Sidewalk SafeTalk” program has been effective in reaching about 75 to 125 community members per night and providing them with safety tips.

“We passed out a lot of whistles and safety information, had some good conversations—just making sure that people know the resources that are available to them as well as [answering] questions that they had,” Glenn said.

There has been discussion around hiring more WUPD officers; however, Glenn believes that the University has to first assess the situation as a whole and evaluate the benefit of increasing WUPD’s staff.

“The University administration has been very open as we look through this,” Glenn said. “I want to make sure we are making the right decision and not just throwing manpower at it.”

Safety tools available to students

Among the safety tools available to students are the blue lights stationed around campus and the Noonlight app.

Blue lights located both on campus and around off-campus neighborhoods ring directly to the local police station. While off-campus blue light calls are dispatched the local police agency, on-campus blue lights connect students directly with WUPD. According to Glenn, with the blue light system, the police are dispatched and at the location within moments of the call.

“For us, we consider blue lights the same as dialing 911,” Glenn said. “So if someone hits a blue light, we respond as an emergency call…it’s an immediate response. It’s proven really effective in those areas that fall outside of main campus—those go to the police agency, the 911 center that patrols those areas.”

Noonlight, formerly known as SafeTrek, is a connected safety platform and mobile app designed to provide comfort and assist people when help is needed. With a touch of a button, users can trigger an alarm that alerts a Noonlight operator. The operator will call the user, and if the operator receives no response, Noonlight will immediately dispatch police to the user’s area.

“It’s described as a blue light in your pocket,” Glenn said. “You can use it just like that to call for services. GPS coordinates download onto a map within about ten feet of where you’re at. It’s a really good service.”

Students are encouraged to avoid walking or jogging alone, to choose well-lit paths and to be cautious when someone approaches them or their vehicle.

“We want to make sure that everyone is safe in our community, especially our students,” White said. “I live in the neighborhood as well.”

According to White, she’s received an overwhelmingly positive response to the two emails sent to parents informing them of the new initiatives that the University has put in place.

“Parents have said that they’ve appreciated that we’ve kept them in the loop and appreciative of all the efforts we are making to keep our students safe,” White said.

In addition to noting the positive response, Webber indicated that the University will have to evaluate its long-term plan to create a safer campus.

“The response has been very positive,” Webber said. “I think that we’ve had a highly unusual situation. We’ve taken very strong action. The question that we’re going to have to grapple with over time is to what degree do we want to make things permanent.”