When the buses stop running at 10:30 p.m., students have limited options. Some don’t have cars to get to and from campus, and tools like Uber and Lyft can be costly. This is where Starlight Shuttle shines.
The Starlight Shuttle is a nighttime, on-demand mode of transport for Western students. Students can call a designated number or request a ride free of charge through the shuttle’s current app, Transloc. However, after realizing that Transloc wasn’t meeting expectations, the university decided to upgrade.
“We were seeing higher wait times than we would like to see, students being driven past their drop-off location to drop another person off first, and high cancellation of rides initiated by students,” said Andrea Reiter, Western’s commute options program manager. “By creating our own contract with an on-demand driving app, Western will have total control on how we adjust algorithms to improve ridership experience.”
In the new app, students will have the option to give feedback on their experience which can help improve the shuttle’s operations. Reiter and Shelby Zimmerman, the director of transportation at Western, decided to make a new contract and move towards an ownership role for the shuttle’s app.
“[The new app] will be Western-specific and will show up in the app store as the Starlight Shuttle app. This allowed us to create our own logo with the help of a student in the design department named Elizabeth Rohling. This makes the app much more recognizable to students,” said Malcolm Duncan-Graves, Western’s active transportation coordinator.
Liz Rohling is a third-year in the Design Bachelor of Fine Arts program at Western. Rohling found out about the Starlight Shuttle’s app revamp through a job listing. Opportunities are posted for BFA students who can submit their portfolios to be chosen for the role.
“I reached out to [Duncan-Graves] via email with my portfolio and I was luckily selected,” Rohling said. “The ideation and beginning processes took about a week, then another week to build the actual logo. I was given a few starting logos to work with, which made my process a lot easier.”
The app allows users to put in details regarding where they work, live and if they have needs such as traveling with a service animal or wheelchair. These preferences will be saved in the app and will make it easier for users to find the specific ride they need.
Miranda Wilcox, a second-year at Western, has used the shuttle multiple times to return to her dorm on campus. She said she felt like the shuttle was comfortable and Transloc is easy to navigate, but she is looking forward to the new app.
“[My experience] was pretty comfortable,” Wilcox said. “[The Transloc app] was easy to figure out. I just had to connect it to my Western account.”
Wilcox said with the shuttle, students can avoid accidents and dangerous situations that can easily occur on a college campus. She said she’s used the shuttle over 10 times in total.
The well-being of students is a priority for many universities. Jeff Baxter, the program coordinator for Oregon State University’s shuttle SafeRide, believes having these tools in place will make students more likely to pick a safer option.
“Without the SafeRide service or any kind of shuttle, students who choose to engage in high-risk behaviors, such as drinking, might make the poor decision to drive home,” Baxter said. “We have all heard stories of people walking home and being followed by someone, they are all over the news. This gives students peace of mind, knowing SafeRide programs are there for them.”
Those who manage campus shuttles can keep up with the statistics to better understand students and the scenarios in which the shuttle is called. Baxter said anything could happen during a ride, from getting a flat tire to a passenger experiencing a health emergency, and those managing the app should use its algorithms to find quick solutions.
“Knowing that you have a safe ride operated by the university removes barriers for transportation needs into the night,” Reiter said. “And part of many students' college experience is experimenting with substances, turning 21 and attending parties; we want to make sure all Western students know that they should not drive under the influence and always have a safe ride through the Starlight Shuttle.
The app will be available to download on Jan. 1, 2024 in the Apple app and Google Play stores. The app won’t officially go into effect until Jan. 7, the first day the shuttle will be operating again after the university’s winter break.
“I used it a couple times last year, but I’ve been using it a ton this year so I was excited to help them out. I am looking forward to it,” Rohling said. “As a designer, I’m excited to see what they have in store for the new app.”
Neisha Gaskins (she/her) is a campus life reporter for The Front. She is a second-year student studying environmental journalism. When she isn’t writing, Neisha spends her time reading, making jewelry and sorting her recycling. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.