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University announces new Via Rideshare service to replace Lyft program in September – Chicago Maroon

The current Lyft Ride Smart program will be replaced by Via as the point-to-point transportation service on campus, Dean of Students Michele Rasmussen and Assistant Vice President for Safety and Security Eric Heath announced in a June 18 email to students. The change comes into effect on September 1, ahead of the 2024–25 academic year.

The existing Lyft program, which was scaled back for the 2023-24 school year, offers students seven rides per month — each subsidized up to $10. The new Via program will provide students with unlimited free rides in shared vans. Through the co-branded UChicago/Via mobile application, students will be able to request a shared van anywhere within the off-campus service area and from “defined ‘virtual locations’ on campus,” which will be located in front of academic, residential buildings, restaurants and student activities. Via will maintain the same service area and operating hours (5 p.m.–4 a.m.) like the existing Lyft program.

Previously, the university had expressed that “if (Via) could not find you a ride within (15) minutes, they would redirect you to a Lyft that (the university) would pay for.” However, the June 18 email did not mention this arrangement.

Members of the Student Government (USG) had been advocating this supplemental policy for the past academic year. USG President Elijah Jenkins ’26 noted that USG is “coordinating meetings over the summer with the UChicago Department of Safety & Security and Via to discuss the free Lyft option and other concerns we’ve received and monitored on Sidechat.”

A spokesperson for the university clarified that the university “will provide additional program information before the program begins on September 1, including how Via will coordinate with Lyft as a complement to their service.”

Via, a New York-based software company, will provide the university with the digital infrastructure to manage the new ride-sharing service. The company has several existing collaborations with other universities, including Northwestern, NYU and Harvard. Students from these institutions have generally praised Via for its user-friendly interface, but they have also pointed out problems with the punctuality of the service. Dani Karr, a student from Northwestern, said earlier Maroon that “the vehicles often take 30-45 minutes to arrive.”

The new UChicago/Via app will also display nearby transportation, such as UGo Shuttles, for a comprehensive view of all available transportation options on campus.

The announcement follows a year of discussions within the administration about seeking alternatives to the Lyft arrangement. The Lyft Ride Smart program, which first launched in September 2021 and previously offered students 10 rides each month subsidized up to $15 per ride, was shortened for the 2023-24 school year after reductions for July and August 2023.

In an October 2023 safety webinar, university officials outlined further cuts to the Lyft program. During the webinar, Rasmussen said the program was not in place as a response to crime. However, the university has used expansions of the Lyft program as a response to crime in the past. After a wave of violent crimes in the fall of 2021, including the murder of graduate student Shaoxiong “Dennis” Zheng, the Lyft program—which was originally only available on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights—was expanded to every evening. The expansion, although initially promoted as temporary, was later made permanent.

When asked about the Lyft reductions last fall, university president Paul Alivisatos said Maroon that “there was some reasonable evidence that there were a number of Lyft rides that were used, primarily, at times and locations that were substitutes for the commute.”

Alivisatos added, “And so it’s an example of harming the public good because the shuttles are important, because they provide a way that’s convenient to get people around who don’t use (individual cars) and it doesn’t clog up streets.”

In an interview with Maroon in February, Heath said the university believes the new Via program will “(increase) access to nighttime point-to-point transportation,” while reducing the high costs of the Lyft program, along with other safety and environmental concerns. In a statement in October to Maroonthe Environmental Justice Task Force criticized the university for citing environmental concerns regarding the Lyft program, which has not been the subject of any organized calls for emissions reductions, while failing to act on initiatives advocated by students.

Additional information about Via, including instructions on how to install the mobile applications, will be released to students later this summer.

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