UT parking, Lyft partner to offer free rides for students from campus to residential locations

Chase Karacostas

Lyft is now offering free nightly rides for students traveling from campus to nearby residential locations seven days a week from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. 

Starting Monday night, Lyft began offering a new year-round pilot program called SURE Ride in partnership with Parking and Transportation Services, PTS. The program offers free rides to students from campus to parts of West Campus, Riverside and North Campus, and as of Tuesday afternoon, a few thousand students have enrolled, PTS said.

Aaron Fox, general manager for Lyft in Austin, said Monday night’s rollout went smoothly, and they had their first rider within five minutes of the program starting. Fox said they’ll be monitoring the number of rides a week to ensure they have enough drivers. 

“We are thrilled to partner with Parking and Transportation Services,” Fox said. “Anything that makes the campus environment safer that we can be a part of is a huge win. I’m an alum, and I really wish we had this program when I was at the school.” 

The coverage area includes West Campus, the Intramural Fields, North Riverside and half a dozen other areas with high concentrations of students. PTS director Bobby Stone said these areas were chosen based on data collected during an early ride-hailing pilot program and general knowledge of where students typically live. 

“It really will enhance access for students as well as safety,” Stone said. “I think it’s something that will be of really, really great value to everybody on campus.” 

Two years ago, PTS began looking for a way to fill the public transportation gap between 11 p.m., when the buses near campus stopped running, and 4 a.m., two hours after SURE Walk closes. Stone said they originally struggled to get funding because the Student Services Budget Committee was not comfortable funding a program that might not last more than a few years, and Uber and Lyft both left Austin in May 2016.

When Lyft and Uber returned over the summer, Lyft reached out about the program with a new cost-saving feature, Lyft Line, which set things in motion for Monday’s roll-out, Stone said. Lyft Line allows riders to take a reduced-cost Lyft if they don’t mind riding with someone else who has close pickup and drop-off locations. 

PTS currently has a yearly budget of $75,000 for the program, which is above the estimate Lyft gave them for the cost of running SURE Ride until next August. However, the program is still in its pilot stages, and its popularity will decide whether or not it is renewed next fall, Stone said.

Radio-television-film senior Topazia Hunter said that as someone who used to live far from campus in Riverside, it’s nice to have this program shorten student commutes at night and increase safety.

“This is a really good thing that they’re doing, making transportation better for students who study here at all hours of the night,” Hunter said. “I know it can get pretty dangerous at night given all that’s been recently happening, so I think this is a nice alternative to reassure students … that we have more safety measures in place.”

To sign up, students must download the Lyft app and opt into the program through a link available on the PTS website.