With new GPS systems, SafeRides vans will now broadcast their location via the NextGUTS feature of the Georgetown mobile app.
NextGUTS, which launched in April, previously tracked only Georgetown University Transportation Shuttles. When students call SafeRides, they are told to stay inside until the van comes, a practice that sometimes leads to miscommunications between students and drivers. Georgetown University Chief of Police Jay Gruber said that the new feature was created out of concern for student safety and to solve this problem.
“Students felt they had to wait outside because they didn’t know when the van was coming — that made them feel uncomfortable,” Gruber said. “Our goal is to keep students safe, to keep them inside a safe area until the van is close, and now they have a great opportunity to see when the van is close and come out just before the van arrives.”
The two SafeRides vans operate from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. Sunday through Wednesday, and until 3 a.m. Thursday through Saturday. The Department of Public Safety also operates neighborhood shuttles to M Street and Burleith on the weekends, although they are not included in the GPS tracking update.
In addition, DPS had received significant student feedback from roundtable discussions, Gruber’s student safety advisory board and the online Georgetown Ideas forum, all of which embraced the tracking feature. Students who call in for a van will now be given an estimated time of arrival and will be able to follow the vans via their smart phones. SafeRides vans will appear as a small letter S on the map.
“You see these S’s just zinging over the Burleith and West Georgetown areas,” Gruber said. “If you get to the real granular level, it’s just pinging right along, so you’ll know when that SafeRides van is a block or so away easily.”
University Information Services Deputy Chief Information Officer Judd Nicholson added that integrating the SafeRides GPS system into the mobile app was easy because of the app’s flexible mobile development platform — the university simply had to install the GPS devices into the actual vehicles. The initiative’s total cost was under $7,000, and the mobile app itself is free and available via iPhone, Android or web browser.
The new feature appears to be part of a growing trend among other colleges with SafeRides programs. The University of Chicago and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are among the universities that currently track vans in programs similar to SafeRides’ GPS technology.
Although students must currently call via phone to request a SafeRides van, Nicholson said the university’s next goal is to integrate requests into the app, similar to popular taxi-hailing service Uber. According to Nicholson, this step could be available within the next year.
Overall, students said that they thought the new feature was a good idea.
“It’s not safe to be waiting outdoors, and now you can be warm and indoors while you wait,” Sharanya Venkataraman (SFS ’16) said. “There have been a couple times where I’ve had to wait a while for the van, and it would definitely help me feel safer if I knew when it was coming or where it was.”
Owen Phillips (GRD ’15) agreed.
“I think if you’re not outside your house when they come by, they’ll leave you, so if you know they’re coming by sooner than later you can step outside and not miss them,” Phillips said.