By Alex Tsai
At 8,000 contiguous acres, Stanford’s campus stands as the largest in the United States — but is it big enough to justify an Uber ride? In the age of ride-sharing services, students are increasingly turning to Uber and 5-SURE to shuttle between destinations on campus in addition to getting off-campus.
Though the League of American Bicyclists has recognized Stanford as a Platinum Bicycle-Friendly University, with 13,000 bikes on campus each day, many students on campus still hail 5-SURE and Uber rides for short trips within campus due to their convenience and efficiency.
Several freshmen told The Daily that the most common Uber trips are taken between West campus and freshman dorms on East campus, as well as between Stanford Stadium and freshman dorms. While these locations are within manageable walking and biking distances of each other, these students find it more comfortable to hail a ride instead, especially at night.
“I Uber because it’s cold to walk at night, and everything is far,” said Roble resident Marsie Salvatori ’21.
Calling an Uber to get to and from parties is also popular during the weekends. Students request rides to avoid a Biking Under the Influence citation.
“We want to be smart with the party scene,” commented a freshman who asked to stay anonymous due to the legal consequences of underage drinking.
Meanwhile, many graduate students make use of 5-SURE car rides, said Joe Kaczorowski, operations manager for Stanford’s Office of Alcohol Policy and Education.
“A lot of grad students use it because they work in a lab on one side of campus — the West side — but live on the East side of campus,” Kaczorowski said.
Launched in the 1970s, 5-SURE — an acronym for “Students United for Risk Elimination” — has also developed a Stanford-only ride service similar to Uber. According to Kaczorowski, 5-SURE provides transportation on an “as-needed basis”: students call the 5-SURE phone number and offer basic identifying information — their name and Stanford ID number — in exchange for a car ride wherever they request, so long as they stay on Stanford’s campus.
Like Uber, students call 5-SURE to feel safe getting from point A to B on university grounds. 5-SURE operates seven days per week, from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. Unlike Uber, 5-SURE is free of charge for all students, but Uber is available 24/7.
Contrary to popular belief, 5-SURE does not refuse service to students based on their destination, nor does it restrict the number of rides a student takes in a given quarter, or even in a given evening.
“We don’t limit where students are going,” Kaczorowski said. “We’ll take them anywhere because it really is about ensuring that people just get where they’re going safely. There’s no hard and fast number to how many times a student can call a 5-SURE per night.”
He added students have abused the 5-SURE service in the past by making excessive calls in one night or hailing rides for extremely short distances in the rain.
“But that’s pretty rare,” Kaczorowski noted. “I think the student population knows that this is a really valuable service and to not use it like that.”
Emma Knaus ’21 said that she uses ride-hailing services like Uber and 5-SURE primarily to reduce the risk of traveling alone late at night.
“If it’s late at night, I’ll Uber to ensure that I get home safe,” she said.
While 5-SURE and Uber serve similar purposes, not all students are as familiar with 5-SURE. Knaus she said she has never used 5-SURE in place of Uber because she does not know how it works.
One barrier to calling an Uber is cost. Uber has developed a dynamic pricing model whereby an automated algorithm within the app “surges” price levels during times of high demand. To make rides more cost-efficient, students often choose to Uber in groups.
“I justify the cost of Uber by splitting the fare with other people,” Salvatori said.
Nick Barber ’21 agreed, pointing out that a shared Uber ride can be much more affordable for students.
“When you split the car ride with four people, it’s usually only a couple of dollars per passenger,” Barber said.
Like 5-SURE, Barber said that it’s important not to overuse Uber, especially when there are other options for transport.
“Ubering in moderation is key,” Barber said. “When it does seem like the Uber isn’t worth the money, you just have to rally people to get on their bikes and Tour de France it.”
Contact Alex Tsai at aotsai ‘at’ stanford.edu.