University

Univ. of Fla. weighs changes to late-night van service

Posted on December 7, 2009

Last week, Student Government members at the University of Florida (UF) in Gainesville met with University Police Department (UPD) representatives to discuss the school's SNAP (Student Nighttime Auxiliary Patrol) van service, which provides free point-to-point rides to students who call in and make a request.

The service, which is staffed by students and supervised by UPD, was designed to improve safety for students who would otherwise be forced to walk alone across campus at night. However, UPD's Capt. Jeff Holcomb says most students use the service out of convenience rather than out of concern for safety.

"We did a survey a few years ago and asked about primary reason for using SNAP, and more than 80 percent said convenience," Holcomb says. "It really ties up the system because that's not what it was developed for."

Holcomb met with the senators to discuss concerns and potential changes to the service. Senators reported complaints from students awakened by SNAP vans honking their horns outside of residence halls late at night. The service runs until 3 a.m. Holcomb says that due to that concern, vans will no longer honk outside of residence halls, but rather will wait longer for the student who requested the van to come outside. "That kind of feedback really helps us in changing policies that have probably been in place for years," Holcomb says.

Another concern for students is long wait times. "While we try to maintain a 10-minute average overall, sometimes you may have a 40-minute wait," Holcomb explains. He reports that the SNAP service saw more than 9,200 ride requests in October alone, and during high-volume hours, wait times get longer. "It's designed to benefit anyone on campus, and there's no way to determine is this a safety issue or is it a convenience aspect. Student transportation fees pay for it and, when we get calls, we roll," he says.

Senators had suggested designating one of the vans for priority rides. However, Holcomb argued that students would come to realize that they would have a shorter wait time if they said they were waiting alone, taking advantage of the "priority" van. Plus, determining priority is not something SNAP staff can do, he explains. "Where do you draw that line? If it's one girl then yes, she gets priority, but if it's one guy, he doesn't? Or if it's two? We can't draw that line," he says. "It's [the student] determining what they feel comfortable or safe with and then being fair to everyone else. What we don't want is the student who legitimately has that fear and concern walking alone when they should be getting the service."

Another suggestion put forward was creating set routes for SNAP vans. Holcomb said the program changed to a point-to-point service after local transit buses developed an on-campus route, duplicating the SNAP routes. "Student transportation fee dollars that pay for our SNAP service also pay for a regional transit bus service in Gainesville, and students can ride free anywhere in the city of Gainesville as well as on campus. They have a route that runs the main arterial roadways until late into the night. What we found was when that service started going, our SNAP vans were following the same routes they were."

UF's independent newspaper, The Alligator, reported that any changes made to the SNAP program will come in the wake of reforms by the student body president, who doubled the number of vans, extended the hours of service and increased SNAP staff over the summer term.

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