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Tuesday, April 23, 2019

City

Students turning away from Uber, Lyft in favor of public transit


UH students are increasingly flocking to public transportation instead of popular ride sharing apps like Uber and Lyft. | Corbin Ayres/The Cougar

With the recent murder of a University of South Carolina student, investment woes, numerous negative headlines and reports, many college students are dropping ride-share services like Uber and Lyft.

Ridership on public transit is up, according to research from the Houston Chronicle and the Kinder Institute for Urban Research. Though many parts of the city are still underserved, METRO expansions on campus and in UH Parking and Transportation programs—such as Coogs On Alternative and Sustainable Transportation (COAST)—have been embraced by many students.

“I prefer to save money. I carpool when I can or take the METRO instead, which is free for me through COAST,” said history sophomore Adrian Casasola. 

The fare for local buses and the METRO rail system is normally $1.25 a ride, but UH students are eligible for “discounted METRO fare cards and passes” that will allow them to ride for half-price. Students can get a discounted METRO card by submitting a request through their MyUH account.

UH students also pay a reduced rate for public transit when they participate in COAST. The program offers members $27.50 each month to go toward the payment of METRO fare, in addition to discounts on parking permits for carpooling, according to the COAST website.

Safety concerns

The murder of University of South Carolina student Samantha Josephson at the end of March has sparked an increase in conversation among college students about safety concerns when it comes to ride-sharing apps.

Josephson was killed after getting into a car she mistakenly identified as her Uber and subsequently being trapped inside by her assailant, who had engaged the child locks on the rear passenger doors of his vehicle.

The case has sparked an increased dialogue around the issue of ride-share safety as people in several cities have begun pushing to demand increased required signage for ride-share vehicles.

“I don’t really feel safe taking an Uber or Lyft because of all the stories about things going wrong with drivers or riders committing crimes. I usually drive myself,” said media production sophomore Rachel Sweetland.

Uber released a statement to a CBS outlet in the wake of Josephson’s murder saying they would continue working to raise public awareness about safety on their platform, something they’d been doing since 2017.  

Both Uber and Lyft provide guides on their websites on how to ride safely using their apps. One tip featured on Uber’s site is to make sure you’re getting in the right car.

“I’m not usually concerned about safety but only because I makes sure to check the license plate of any vehicle before getting in,” said biochem sophomore Saniha Mody, who regularly uses ride-share apps like Lyft to get home when going out. 

Harassment complaints

Another common problem with ride-sharing services is stalking and harassment of female passengers by drivers, who obtained personal contact information via the apps.

Last year, Uber made several changes to their app. These changes include not storing precise pickup location data in order to help curb privacy concerns and allowing victims of sexual harassment by drivers to sue the company directly, a reversal of previous policy that critics said often silenced victims.

Despite these changes, ride-share passengers still experience harassment and have uncomfortable encounters with drivers.

“Overall, I’ve had a good experience with Uber, but one ride that stood out to me was this guy who kept trying to convince my friend and I to look into the benefits of being a sugar baby,” said a retail and consumer science senior who asked to remain anonymous. “He gave me a card with some guy’s number on it. He was dead serious.”

Future expansion from UH

While they do cost more than public transit—according to Lyft’s Fare Estimate tool, commuters from outside the beltway looking to catch a ride to campus can usually expect to shell out more than $20 for a one-way ride—many students say the prices of ride-sharing fares are generally reasonable.

“I actually switched over to Lyft recently because I kept seeing that it was cheaper,” Mody said. “I think the prices are fair, though when there’s demand they definitely can go high.”

Ride-share platforms also have a place in COAST’s goal to provide students with more transportation options. Uber and Lyft are listed as two recommended alternative ways to get to campus by Parking and Transportation Services, according to their website. 

In the past, Parking and Transportation have published a map of popular pickup points, though that map is currently unavailable available on their site.

Parking and Transportation is exploring additional transportation programs to implement, such as bike, car and ride-sharing opportunities, according to COAST’s website

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