Sunday, January 5, 2020

Oshkosh students jump on new 'UWO Go' ride-hailing service, alternative way to get home safe

UW Oshkosh photo
Enrolled UW Oshkosh students can use an app to get free transportation around much of the city.
By Joseph Schulz
UWO Go, a local transportation service for UW Oshkosh students that was launched late last year, has exploded in popularity and already provided more than 2,000 rides.

The service, which is app-based and similar to Uber or Lyft, replaced a program called Saferide.

“Technology-wise, it’s where people want to be,” said University Police Capt. Chris Tarmann. “Looking back at the years when we’ve done Saferide, I don’t think we’ve ever done more than 1,000 [rides] a year.”

UWO Go launched Nov. 1 and is free to any UW Oshkosh student with a campus ID.

To get a ride, students must download the UWO Mobile app, select the Oshkosh campus and select UWO Go to schedule a ride.

Once a ride is scheduled, community service officers will pick up students and take them to their destination, no questions asked.

Tarmann added that one reason for the program’s success is that students don’t have to communicate with an officer over the phone verbally.

The program runs seven days a week during the school year, starting at 4 p.m. It runs till midnight on Sundays and Mondays and until 2:30 a.m. the rest of the week.

The service area is roughly from Sawyer Street to Main Street and from Murdock Avenue to the north and the Fox River to the south.

The service allows students to run errands to a grocery store and a pharmacy, but it also gives them easy access to other kinds of establishments in town.

The program isn’t a bar hopping service, Tarmann said. It’s a service designed to ensure that students are getting wherever they need to go safely, he said.

Students using UWO Go cannot get a ride from one bar to another; one of the destinations must be somewhere that is not a bar.

Given that the university has earned the nickname UW Sloshkosh and has found itself on the list of top party schools, the need to get folks home safe from a night of bar hopping has become a priority.

While UWO Go may not be a bar hopping service, the Oshkosh Jewelers Nightlife Bus is. The bus began giving patrons rides in 2017 as the OshkoshBars’ Bus but recently changed its name and route.

Bus owner Barry LaVaque said the route changed to include a stop near the UW Oshkosh campus and to condense the route time to approximately 30 minutes.

“After two years, we realized we needed to make some changes,” LaVaque said, adding that he sees the new name and route as a chance for a fresh start.

He noted that the changes were done to combat declining ridership and to increase advertising revenue as local businesses can advertise on the outside of the bus.

The bus used to be funded by the bars and the Tavern League, but now it’s funded through advertising because it stops at non-Tavern League locations, such as Toppers Pizza and Fifth Ward Brewing Co., LaVaque noted.

He said there was some pushback from the bars near campus when it was announced that the bus would be stopping at Toppers and that he’d like to have more stops near campus.

LaVaque said he doesn’t view UWO Go as competition because it’s not a bar hopping service. He added that since incorporating a stop near campus, the bus hasn’t caught on with college students yet.

“We’ve never had campus on board before, so we’ve never had any ridership from college kids,” LaVaque said. “This is our first crack at campus.”

Tom Taggert, who owns Molly McGuire's and the French Quarter, said he isn’t concerned that the bus stopping near his establishments will impact his business.

“Kids are going to go where they want to go,” he said. “A bus stopping isn’t necessarily going to change their mind.”

While UWO Go is the relative new kid on the block in terms of SafeRide programs, the Oshkosh Tavern League has made getting patrons home safe a priority for years with its SafeRide program.

If someone in a Tavern League bar has had too much to drink, they can ask the bartender for a safe ride, and they’ll be given a free ride taxi home, according to Oshkosh Tavern League President Pat Purtell.

Individual bars cover 10% of the cab fare, while the Tavern League covers the remaining 90%, Purtell said.

“I don’t understand why a tavern owner wouldn’t want to offer that,” Purtell said of the program.

One problem the program faces is that non-Tavern League bars are sending their customers to Tavern League establishments at bar close for free rides home, he added.

The Tavern League is losing money as a result of paying for cab rides for customers who didn’t spend money in Tavern League establishments, Purtell said.

The Tavern League spends roughly $7,000 a month on cab rides, and unless more bars begin joining the Tavern League, individual Tavern League establishments will have to pay a higher percentage per cab ride, he noted.

“We’ll have to raise rates,” Purtell said. “We just don’t make enough [money] to run the program.”

Purtell added that it costs $150 a month to join the Tavern League and that beyond the SafeRide program, the Tavern League also gives bar owners a lobbying voice in state government.

In terms of competing with UWO Go, Purtell said he doesn’t see the other program as a competitor. To him, the more options to get folks home safe, the better.

“I’m just interested in people getting home safe,” he said. “You could have five more [SafeRide] programs in my mind.”

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