MIT maintains a set of four vans that transport students from main campus to their homes. These vans, ironically enough, are named SafeRide; some students claim that it is neither Safe nor a Ride. As a regular patron of this fine service, I have some thoughts on how it could become a more useful and altogether more reasonable service to the MIT community.
Perhaps my biggest complaint about SafeRide is its blatant ignorance of standard safety rules. Most passengers pay no attention to the seat belts, for one thing. This often makes no difference because the seat belts don't work, or, more frequently, there are more SafeRide passengers than seat belts. The SafeRide drivers exhibit some of the worst aspects of Boston driving, and seem to think that achieving maximum speed whenever possible is a desirable goal.
MIT should make sure that the SafeRide vans always have working seat belts. Passengers should be encouraged, though not necessarily required, to take advantage of these safety features. The SafeRide drivers, in turn, should limit the number of passengers in the van to the number of working seat belts. When the Epsilon Theta van had a broken seat belt for a term, drivers refused to take more than ten passengers, since that was how many seat belts there were. Unfortunately, SafeRide doesn't seem to have this option due to its particular situation.
Originally, SafeRide was intended to provide "safe" rides back to students' dorms after consuming alcohol at parties. Now that service has been expanded to nearly every MIT dorm (graduate and undergraduate) and FSILG, though, it has become a primary means of transporation for many students. Current UA proposals to extend SafeRide service to 24 hours a day only make SafeRide's capacity problems worse.
The "normal" SafeRide vans carry 11 passengers plus the driver; frequent mechanical problems force MIT to rent vans that carry 14 passengers. Under "normal" conditions, the vans easily fill; in poor weather, or if one (or more) Boston fraternities are having parties, or an LSC movie has just gotten out, or under any of a variety of other conditions, demand for SafeRide seats far exceeds their availability. SafeRide drivers tend to deal with this by stuffing people into the van wherever they fit; one driver told me of a run where he had 26 passengers in a 12-passenger van.
MIT needs a reasonable contingency plan for SafeRide filling up. Aside from the changes I recommend below, I suggest:
Off-campus FSILGs be required to provide transportation to advertised events. Many houses seem to be content with "take SafeRide" as the primary means of getting people to and from their parties; the problem is that people who use SafeRide to get home are squished or sometimes forced off the van. Houses that regularly maintain vans should use them; other houses should come up with some means (possibly including renting a van) of transporting guests that doesn't inconvenience otherstudents.
In poor weather, SafeRide should have extra vans standing by. If a van fills, it should leave immediately and a backup van should replace it.
The denizens of that distant town of Brookline often complain about the so-called "bridge people" on the Boston West SafeRide route. These people wait for the van, get on, cross the Harvard Bridge, and get off at the first stop. Even worse are the backwards bridge people, who get on at the first stop and ride the van for 20 minutes to avoid a 10-minute walk across the bridge.
The best solution to this problem in my mind is to create a "Boston Central" SafeRide route. This route would serve the first few stops on Boston West, orbit Kenmore Square once, possibly visit other nearby houses, and return to campus. The Boston West route would cross the bridge, turn right on to Beacon Street without stopping, and proceed down Bay State Road to make its first stop at Theta Xi. Ideally, the route times could be reduced from 30- to 20-minute intervals as well.
It is worth noting that the Cambridge routes are not exempt from this problem. From 84 Mass. Ave., students got off the van at McCormick House, Baker House, and Burton-Connor. The distance from the MIT Student Center to the SafeRide stop is perhaps 100 feet; the distance from the Student Center to McCormick is perhaps 150 feet, and about 250 to Baker. Nobody would be inconvenienced if these stops disappeared, and it could help the capacity problem as well.
SafeRide drivers have the annoying tendency to pick the worst possible radio stations. "SafeRide music" is a clearly identifiable category.
Vassar Street in Cambridge is perhaps one of the worst-maintained streets in the Boston area, and the Boston West van makes a left turn of questionable safety across Memorial Drive to reach it. Routing the Boston West van up Brookline Street from the B.U. Bridge and across Erie Street to Albany Street would avoid Vassar.
Alternatively, enforce a 25 MPH limit on Vassar Street to avoid pothole-induced concussions. (While I don't know of any specific incidents of this, I do know that passengers in the rear of the van do regularly bump their heads. I also have observed SafeRide travelling at 40 MPH down Vassar, and personally limit myself to 20-25 MPH when driving there.)
Make no unscheduled stops. Stopping in front of the McDonald's in Kenmore Square is a safety hazard; most unscheduled stops only save students a block's walk or so. What common unscheduled stops do exist should be added to the schedule.
SafeRide is a valuable service for many MIT students. However, it regularly fails to be safe, and is not equipped for the passenger loads it regularly recieves. Some simple changes can help reduce the passenger load in many situations; some not-so-simple and possibly expensive changes can increase SafeRide's capacity to match the load. MIT should look into making these changes to improve the quality of service for its students.
Return to David's home page, or go to the index; contact email@example.com