Even after SafeRide scrapped its airport shuttle service last semester, the free campus transportation program broke records with a 48 percent increase in rides, possibly justifying the need for more funding.
If the usage rate remains steady, officials are projecting the total will easily break 50,000 rides for this academic year, shattering the prior year's 39,841 rides, said Joshua Wright, the director of SafeRide, an Associated Students of the University of Arizona program.
"This year is out of character," said Wright, a public administration graduate student. "The funding needs to go up to support this kind of growth and maintain the same quality of service."
However, Wright said he expects the program to make it through the semester without financial difficulties.
SafeRide operates on a yearly budget of $75,000. If SafeRide meets their projected total of 50,000 rides given by the end of this semester, this will boil down to each ride costing the university around $1.50.
The airport shuttle service, which offered rides from Tucson International Airport beginning last semester, ended prematurely because of a weak student response and unavoidable airplane delays, which made it difficult to pick up returning students.
But another SafeRide innovation from last semester which succeeded was offering the program's service on Fridays.
Wright said the sudden increase in usage might be explained by aggressive marketing by the University of Arizona Police Department and the OASIS Program concerning safety advocacy. The message of campus safety emphasized during orientation could have nudged freshmen, who usually don't have cars on campus, toward SafeRide.
Whether SafeRide appeals more to the safety-conscious or to those in need of a convenient ride is ultimately blurry, but the demand for the program's services has increased dramatically regardless.
"We have tried to expand every year by adding more vehicles and staff," Wright said. "Maybe it's just we're doing our job better. Our response time is very good."
This semester, Wright said there probably won't be any major changes or innovations to SafeRide because everything is already going smoothly, and the summer is the only practical time to implement changes.
Kristen Phillips, an elementary education sophomore said she and her friends use SafeRide frequently for transportation from residence hall to residence hall.
"You use it when it's dark and you don't want to walk by yourself," she said.
According to SafeRide's most recent survey in October 2004, only about 10 percent of those surveyed were first time "SafeRiders," while the rest used the service at least once a week. Eight percent said they used it daily.
Wright described SafeRide's demographic as being composed of "mostly women, mostly undergrads ... and mostly freshmen."
Average growth during typical years had generally been between 3,000 and 5,000, he said.
By the end of SafeRide's operation this semester, Wright predicts total growth will be more than double that.
Despite the surge in the number of people using the service, Wright said the average response time has remained at five minutes.
Right now, SafeRide operates six vehicles on average every night. There is a back-up car and a golf cart that are used only when necessary.