Since the beginning of the semester, the University has partnered with the ride-hailing app Lyft to provide additional vehicles for students who request Night Rides from Blue Jay Shuttles on Fridays and Saturdays.
Prior to this new partnership, the University used Lyft to help students commute between Homewood and the Bayview Medical Center.
According to Greg Smith, director of the University’s Transportation Services, Hopkins began planning the partnership in the fall, when weekend demand for Blue Jay Shuttles increased dramatically.
“We realized that we either needed to grow significantly... or outsource. So we pursued both processes as options, and it quickly became apparent that buying additional vans to only use on Friday and Saturday nights wasn’t a very good fiscal position,” Smith said.
He explained that when students request a Night Ride, either through the Transloc app or by calling Transportation Services, dispatchers make a decision whether to send a Lyft vehicle or a Blue Jay Shuttle based on the size of the group.
“If the dispatchers know that you’re a group of five or more, it’s automatically going to be a Blue Jay Shuttle, because Lyft only gives us the capability to do four seats, and Blue Jay [Shuttles] have 14,” he said.
With four or fewer riders, dispatchers take location and wait time into account.
If dispatchers decide to send a Lyft vehicle, students are notified and receive a text message when it arrives. As part of this new partnership, Lyft sends more of their drivers to the neighborhoods around Homewood campus on weekends.
According to Smith, students have offered positive feedback on the partnership. Before launching the program, Transportation Services conducted a focus group with about 10 students to assess student opinion on Blue Jay Shuttles.
“When we told them what we were doing, every single one of them was excited and pleased,” Smith said. “So we think we hit it right, and the key now is just making sure people are aware. We want everybody to use Blue Jay Shuttle.”
Students who use Night Rides regularly, like sophomore Teya Bergamaschi, have experienced long waiting times after requesting a Blue Jay Shuttle.
“I use [Night Rides] maybe once or twice a week... mostly because I’m a broke college student and it’s a really nice affordable way to get around,” she said. “I’ve waited with friends while they waited half an hour for one to show up.”
Junior Richard De Los Santos Abreu, who lives off campus and uses the Blue Jay Shuttle regularly, has also noted long waiting times, especially on weekends.
Although he has not yet used a Lyft vehicle as part of the Night Rides program, he is optimistic that the partnership will be a success.
“The University truly cares and is listening to student concerns by providing this system,” he said.
Although junior Sophia Song uses Blue Jay Shuttles regularly, she said she rarely has a problem with long wait times, even before the partnership was implemented.
“Most people that I’ve talked to who have used the Blue Jay Shuttle have never had a problem,” she said.
Song said she is pleased with the partnership so far.
“Since they’ve announced it, [I’ve] only used a Lyft once... but it really adds another layer to their programming,” she said.
Smith said that Transportation Services, who initially advertised the program on social media and on TV screens around campus, is seeking student feedback on their experiences with Lyft vehicles.
“After two weekends — we used it the weekend before classes and we used it this weekend — what’s the word on the street?” he said. “Are people happy, is it a useful tool?”
While other universities have partnerships with Lyft, Smith said that they mostly consist of promo codes and discounts for specific rides.
“The program that we’re running is unique and is one that may set the stage for others to follow,” he said. “Lyft tells us [Hopkins] is unique, and our own research has led us to believe that it’s a first of its kind.”