Applications open Monday for a pilot program that will give disabled students free car rides to and from campus.
Students with permanent or temporary immobility can apply at the Disabled Students Program (DSP) to be one of about 20 students to receive free rides through Lyft, a rideshare app that allows users to hail a taxi on demand. DSP will send emails to participants every week giving them a code to pay for two rides per weekday.
The program intends for disabled students to use the two daily rides to receive one ride to campus and another ride from campus back to their place of residence.
DSP will not keep medical records of applicants on file. The application process only requires that students provide their name, email, phone number and eligibility status.
Funding for this program comes from a $40,000 allocation from Associated Students (A.S.) approved by the A.S. Senate in May. The $40,000 is a portion of a much larger $196,803 fund that A.S. has accrued for parking programs over ten years.
According to Jerel Constantino, the chief operations officer of A.S., students approved a parking lock-in fee ten years ago to create free parking on campus. The fee could not fully subsidize parking, so students approved a ten percent tax of the lock-in fee every year to fund an alternative transportation program. The majority of the fund is subject to A.S. approval for use.
From the ten percent tax revenue, the DSP received a $40,000 budget to establish the Lyft program. The remaining revenue, at approximately $70,000, can be used for additional parking projects.
Constantino said he and A.S. President Austin Hechler, then A.S. Senator, contacted Lyft in April to discuss using the rideshare service for disabled students. They chose Lyft, he said, because Logan Green, the company’s CEO, was a UCSB alumnus and former A.S. executive officer.
Lyft put Constantino and Hechler in contact with a case manager who expressed the company’s willingness to be part of the alternative transportation program.
According to Constantino, he and Hechler also requested that Lyft hire more UCSB students as drivers so that the program is student-run “from the top-down.” He said Lyft responded positively and will be sending recruiters on campus.
Hechler said this year’s implementation of the alternative transportation program is only meant to be a pilot; it will not be able to serve all students in need. Rather, Hechler said he and other organizers will use this year to assess how well the program works for about 20 students every quarter.
If the program is “user-friendly” and “sustained,” Hechler said advocates of the program, like himself, may push for a lock-in fee in the upcoming A.S. spring elections.
“I’m not a proponent of raising our student fees, but if the necessity is there then I think establishing a lock-in fee is needed,” Hechler said. “No one should have to compromise their education because they think they can’t go to class.”
In future years, Hechler said he hopes the alternative transportation program will expand to employ pedicabs on campus, which will be able to transport disabled students between lecture halls.
Constantino said he hopes the program can use self-driving cars ten years from now if such vehicles become available.
A version of this story appeared on p.1 of the Thursday, September 29, 2016 print edition of the Daily Nexus.