Goodman: In search of a more efficient SafeRide


Meredith Goodman, Columnist

All Northwestern students know the feeling of disappointment when they call for a SafeRide and the operator informs them that the wait is more than an hour and a half. SafeRide doesn’t even schedule rides when the waiting time is over 80 minutes, so they are left scrambling for a safe way to get home. It is a feeling that I have felt all too often during my time at NU.

It’s easy to understand why SafeRide has such long wait times. Students on campus prioritize safety, and SafeRide is much more convenient (and comfier) than campus shuttles. But SafeRide isn’t “safe” when students are locked out of rides because of overwhelming demand. We need policies that curb the excessive waiting times of SafeRide so that all of our students can get home safely.

As an economics major, many of my classes focus on the concept of efficiency. In one of my current classes, Economics of Medical Care, we are discussing the concept of efficiency in regards to how a country decides on the quantity of medical care provided.  If given the option, many people would choose to have large, or even unlimited, amounts of health care. But there is no way such a huge amount could reasonably be provided without cutting quality or raising costs. This is similar to SafeRide’s demand problem — students would probably want unlimited SafeRides if given the choice, but this is not possible at a university with limited resources.

In health care systems, the “gatekeeper” is a rationing or restricting device that limits the amount of medical care people can obtain. For example, in Canada, the gatekeeper is long waiting lists for medical procedures. Similarly, SafeRide’s current gatekeeper is its long waiting times. If we want to decrease these waiting times, we will have to switch to another gatekeeper, such as the cost or number of SafeRides.

Right now, SafeRides are free and students don’t face any true “cost” of getting a SafeRide. If we charged per ride, maybe $2 or $3, students would face a cost (referred to as “internalizing the cost”) and would have an incentive to find alternatives to getting home safely, such as taking a shuttle or walking in a group.

An alternative to charging for SafeRides would be giving each student a certain allotment of rides per quarter, maybe five or six rides. Students would have the option to take a free SafeRide if the situation required it, but they would still have the motivation to find safe alternatives.

We could also use a combination of charging for and allotting rides. We could offer students five to six free rides a quarter, and if they went beyond that allotment they would have to pay per ride.

I am predicting angry comments and hate mail being sent my way for suggesting SafeRide should charge or limit its rides. I doubt that my fellow students will enjoy the idea of a new SafeRide that isn’t entirely free.

But I, like all of my NU peers, am concerned about the safety of our students. And when SafeRide tells students that the wait time is too long to offer them a ride, students could be forced to put themselves in costly or unsafe situations, like taking a cab or walking home alone. SafeRide should reevaluate the efficiency of its policies in order to ensure the safety of NU students.

Meredith Goodman is a Weinberg junior. She can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].