Seth Shanley is a fourth-year in journalism and All Jokes Aside columnist. The views expressed are solely those of the columnist.
Ohio State is taking big steps forward. Also backwards. Sometimes even sideways. Really, the university is taking steps toward the nearest private company. In its most recent waddle, Ohio State collaborated with Lyft to privatize its students’ safety.
Ohio State dissolved its free student Safe Ride service and replaced it with “Lyft Ride Smart.” For a discounted price, campus area students can pay Lyft to send a vague adult to pick them up at any point between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m.
Due to a growing student body and stagnant lack of vehicles, the now defunct free Safe Ride program wasn’t sufficient, according to a statement from Ohio State. This Lyft partnership aims to shorten wait times and provide more rides.
In sum, a paid private service is replacing a free university one. When students feel unsafe at night, Ohio State recommends that they pay Lyft for safety.
Paying for safety may sound bad, but think of it like how firefighters are paid with our taxes. Only in this case, you’re financing the fire department with your taxes, but then your house catches fire, so you have to pay an additional fee to a private company partnered with the fire department, which will then send a 47-year-old man in a Honda Accord to extinguish your home.
Safety is Ohio State’s top priority, according to the Lyft Ride Smart website. Unfortunately, outsourcing a nighttime safety program might not be in the best interest of student safety.
If you search “Lyft” on The Lantern, you’ll quickly see “OSU Student Attacked By Fake Lyft Driver.” Bad start for student safety. But that was a fake driver. Real drivers are rigorously vetted by Lyft and devoted to the safety of passengers, aren’t they?
Lyft is currently facing many lawsuits claiming sexual assaults committed by its drivers. The company addressed these assaults and offered a solution.
The solution? An online Community Safety Education course that drivers must complete. As anyone who has ever taken an online class before knows, this is a sure way to impart a thorough understanding of a topic and the perfect way to teach human decency to Lyft drivers.
Ohio State will generously contribute $5 to each student’s Lyft fee 10,000 times each month. This adds up to $50,000 monthly, $600,000 yearly or about .000087 percent of the school’s 6.9 billion projected 2019 budget.
The approximately 1.28 out-of-state freshmen who have had their tuition alloted to the monthly bill of this program must feel extremely proud of themselves for supporting such a generous safety initiative.
With the old service, Ohio State had to worry about buying vehicles, maintaining vehicles, paying employees and hopefully providing benefits for said employees. Worst of all, the cost of the gallons and gallons of paint necessary to put THE Ohio State logo on all those safety vehicles must’ve set the university back at least a year.
Financial figures aren’t available, but perhaps the Lyft partnership saves money. It’s a long shot, but teaming up with a company valued at $23 billion to advertise paid rides to a pool of 61,170 individuals may benefit someone or some public entity. Can’t say for sure, though.
This might be out of line, but maybe Ohio State students aren’t getting the best deal here.
Aside from the aspect of students paying, it could be argued that Lyft is just better. It’s faster, easier to use and familiar. The wait for a ride has decreased down to three to five minutes from the 20 to 30 of the old service, according to a statement from Ohio State. Is this ease of access not worth anything?
Well, it’s arguable that Ohio State could improve its infrastructure to allow for a much more efficient ride service. I’m no financial adviser, but 2019’s $6.9 billion projected budget might just facilitate the addition of more safety officers and vehicles for shorter wait times.
It’s reasonable to think that Ohio State could design and advertise an in-house, easy-to-use way to call for a ride in unsafe situations without turning to a private company that’s currently facing a whole lot of lawsuits for putting its passengers in unsafe situations.
If the United States government can manage to provide 911 without teaming up with Craigslist, then Ohio State can probably manage to provide its own emergency service.
Ohio State is adamant that Lyft Ride Smart be used for emergency purposes only. Discussing the creation of implementation of this new service, Kate Greer, USG president and one of the forces behind Lyft Ride Smart, said students should use this new service as intended and be truthful about their fear of dangerous situations.
“It’s also important to emphasize that this is a safety feature. This isn’t a taxi service,” Greer said to The Lantern in a July interview. “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.”
What’s a “safety feature?” Facebook Marketplace is a feature. If a student pays for a ride to a destination, that is literally a taxi service. When you complete your ride, you’re given a prompt by the Lyft app to tip your driver. That seems pretty transactional.
Brief aside, make sure to tip your driver. It’s not their fault Ohio State is placing the gravity of student safety in their hands, and the vast majority of drivers are decent people.
Safety shouldn’t be put on a spectrum and it certainly shouldn’t be rationed. Unfortunately, “really critical situations” are not a slow build. The best preventative of danger is to remove yourself before a situation, rather than wait until you’re being mugged to justify your usage of Ohio State’s needlessly finite discounts.
Students looking to use Lyft Ride Smart can access it via the Ohio State app or by linking their student email to the Lyft app. It is advised that students link a payment method to their Lyft account because that’s required. For students unable to pay for Lyft, Ohio State recommends either COTA or CABS. COTA routes end before midnight and CABS offers one route. Lyft Ride Smart runs 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. For more information, visit https://ttm.osu.edu/ride-smart