Ohio State is partnering with Lyft to replace its Safe Ride program. Credit: Courtesy of Lyft

A new Ohio State partnership with Lyft is set to replace the free, university-operated Safe Ride service with a discounted ride share program called Lyft Ride Smart at Ohio State. 

Beginning on Aug. 1, Ohio State will offer 10,000 discounted safe night rides per month through the Lyft app with a $5 discount per ride within the designated Columbus campus service area. The partnership aims to increase the number of rides given with shorter wait times, Ohio State spokesman Dan Hedman said.

The Safe Ride program served its purpose in the time that it was functioning, but with the increase in on-campus residents, advances in technology and a limited number of vehicles, Hedman said that the demand exceeded the service capacity. 

He said that in any given month, Safe Ride could offer around 2,000 rides, and Lyft will provide five times that through a medium many students are already familiar with. 

“As things evolve, we need to evolve too, and part of that evolution was through a partnership with [Undergraduate Student Government] and getting their advice on what we should do,” Hedman said. 

USG President Kate Greer said the switch to a private rideshare service was multiple student government administrations in the making.

“While Julia and I are the administration that’s going to be here as the program comes to fruition, there’s been a lot of work done before us to make this happen,” Greer said. “It’s been a very long process, but we’re very excited that we’re the administration that gets to see it through its final stages.” 

Kaitlyn Carl, communications manager for Lyft, said in an email that Lyft also works with the University of Southern California, the University of Texas at Austin and Johns Hopkins University, and Greer said that these partnerships made Lyft the right choice for Ohio State. However, Greer also said that the discounted rides should be used for their intended purpose.

“It’s also important to emphasize that this is a safety feature. This isn’t a taxi service,” Greer said. “We really ask students to go by the honor system and to save these rides for when they’re in a really critical situation late at night, they need a ride back, and we’re expecting the car to be there within minutes.” 

With ride costs expected to be around $2 or less per person, the discount for each ride is intended to make Lyft Ride Smart accessible for more students, Hedman said. However, once the 10,000 discounted rides per month is exhausted, rides in the area will return to full price. 

Lyft Ride Smart will serve the same area as the Safe Ride: North to Hudson Street, south to Fifth Avenue, east to Conrail railroad tracks, and west to North Star Road. The north boundary west of Olentangy River Road is Ackerman Road, according to Hedman. 

Enrolled students can access the Lyft program 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. by syncing the Lyft app with their Ohio State login credentials, and the credits for rides will show up in the app. Users must select “shared ride” when booking a ride, Hedman said. 

Hedman said that users can only use the discounted service when the pick-up and drop-off points are within the designated area. Rides may be shared with students requesting rides nearby, or they can be shared with friends students are traveling with. 

In terms of safety, Hedman said that any driver can service the Lyft Ride Smart area, but Lyft drivers must pass professionally administered background checks, according to its website. Drivers must pass these checks every 12 months. 

Hedman said that the university advises students to follow the GPS on the Lyft app, check the license plate of the driver to match the car the app has listed, and ask the driver who they are picking up. 

“I know we’ve been in conversations with Lyft, and they have, the same as us, safety as a top priority. They’re always looking at ways to make the program safer,” Hedman said. “Our biggest thing is making sure that folks use it responsibly and understand how to use it and understand the precautions they should take.”

Carl said in a statement that Lyft is looking forward to the partnership.

“Lyft is thrilled to partner with The Ohio State University to help students seamlessly move around campus,” Carl said. “Our mission is to improve people’s lives with the world’s best transportation, and we’re looking forward to bringing an affordable, reliable transportation option to the beloved Columbus college campus.”

The contract between Lyft and Ohio State goes through June 2020 with the option to renew annually, and most of the funding for the partnership was transferred from the Safe Ride program, Hedman said.