Editorial: Expand Nite Ride's reach


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As a part of its new Six Point Plan to Combat Sexual Assault, the University of Iowa administration has moved to expand the capacity of Nite Ride — the university’s late-night shuttle for women — in an effort to offer more safe rides home.

Under the new plan, the university is working to put a second Nite Ride van into operation as soon as possible. Currently, the 15-seat Nite Ride bus offers on-call service to women seven nights a week with weekend pickups downtown at Clinton and Washington Streets and weeknight pickups at any UI buildings and parking lots save for residence halls.

In recent years, use of Nite Ride has remained substantial and relatively steady. In 2009, Nite Ride provided 14,472 rides and, though numbers dipped a little in the intervening years, 13,395 rides in 2013.

An expansion of this service’s capacity is good news, particularly considering the stories we have heard from students about women being turned away from full Nite Ride shuttles in the past.

Doubling the service’s capacity will certainly save lots of women from having to walk at night, but it’s unclear whether this change alone will substantially reduce the incidence of sexual assault. Given what we know about these crimes, it seems that further upgrades to Nite Ride would be necessary to make a major dent in sexual-assault numbers.

The dangers of walking home in the dark are well-documented — one of the eight reported sexual assaults this academic year, for example, took place when a woman was attacked by a group of men while walking alone at night on campus — but such “dark-alley” attacks make up only a small proportion of sexual-assaults.

A vast majority of sexual assaults — more than 90 percent on college campuses — are committed not by strange assailants but by acquaintances. Very often, the situations in which sexual assault is common involve alcohol in some capacity. Those facts taken together likely mean that a Nite Ride expansion capable of meaningfully reducing the number of sexual assaults would have to allow for pickups at high-risk locations such as off-campus parties instead of a single downtown pickup location on the weekends.

Unfortunately, a system such as that would require a much larger fleet of vehicles and personnel and, thus, a lot more money, particularly if the service were to be used as a sort of de facto taxi for partygoers.

The current system, with its static pickup point on the weekends, is obviously intended to discourage that sort of taxi-type use. That’s understandable given the amount of strain on the existing program, and it would be unreasonable to expect Nite Ride to make pickups all over town, but the current expansion of Nite Ride should increase not only its ability to carry passengers but its flexibility in picking them up, particularly on the weekends.

Instead of dispatching a second Nite Ride van to pick women up on Friday and Saturday nights at the downtown stop, perhaps the second route could have a pickup zone in an alternate location — a well-lighted corner on Burlington Street, maybe, which could be more convenient for women leaving off-campus parties.

Obviously, Nite Ride isn’t a panacea for sexual assault, but its expansion is welcome and should be used as an opportunity to expand the program’s reach into high-risk areas away from downtown.

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