Students are upset about tuition increases and the rising cost of rent. But few things have USC students fuming as much as the current state of ridesharing options around campus.
Earlier this month, a USC administration modification to its Safe Ride Program, also known as “Fryft” or Free Lyft, went into effect, forcing students to share rides with other passengers instead of taking private ones. The change has resulted in long wait times, USC students say. And they are not happy about it.
“It makes me furious,” said Omar Elhawary, a senior pre-med student at USC. “It’s inconvenient because it makes me late.”
Since the start of this spring semester, over 7,000 students have signed a petition against the change, accusing USC of putting money over student safety.
“I have class from 7 to 9 most nights, or sometimes even 7 to 11, so I’m getting home at around midnight,” said Ashley Nguyen, a USC sophomore. “And when I have to make the choice to take a Lyft or walk, I normally choose to walk instead because it’s faster. I’m tired and I want to get home. And that’s not always the safest thing because sometimes I forget to carry pepper spray, and I don’t have someone to walk me home.”
Students like Nguyen are concerned about female students being harassed by strangers they are forced to ride with. The student body’s critique has not gone unnoticed by the administration. In response to complaints, USC officials noted the shared-Lyft program was in effect before the COVID-19 pandemic and said any student who does not feel safe can cancel their ride.
On Wednesday, Michelle Garcia, senior associate director of USC transportation said administrators are working with Lyft to find solutions.
“I have gotten feedback from students regarding their long wait times, and actually a few have been really helpful in providing me with some information…[to] try and troubleshoot any issues with their algorithm that’s creating these longer wait times,” she said. “The information I’m getting from Lyft is that longer than 15 minutes is rare, but it’s not that it’s not occurring.”
When Caroline Fromm first created a petition to restore the single-rider Lyft program in December 2021, the university listened and reenacted the policy, according to the petition. She said many students have waited up to an hour to be assigned a Lyft driver, and many of those drivers have expressed a lack of financial incentive to continue serving the USC area.
“Longer wait times making you walk around campus in the darkness are not necessarily safe,” said Yoav Gillath, a USC sophomore and USG senator running for student body president.
While Gillath said he could not comment on behalf of USG, he mentioned that USG has been in communication with USC Transportation. They have discussed possible transportation alternatives to expand student accessibility while keeping university costs low.
“Right now, we’re dealing with a big budget deficit for the university,” Gillath said, “and that’s why I think they switched back to shared Lyft.”
Garcia noted that the free shared Lyft program is not a common resource at neighboring universities.
“There is no other university that compares to our Lyft program, even in its shared state,” Garcia said.
Gillath said he will do everything in his power to restore the private Lyft program for current students.
“[Single-rider Lyft] would go a long way to assuaging some of the safety concerns, not just for students, but also for parents,” Gillath said.