An Uber for Explorers: La Salle strikes partnership with ride-hailing service

A subway ride to the Olney Transportation Center in North Philadelphia costs $2.25. For another two bucks, you can now take a 5-minute Uber ride from the Olney stop on the Broad Street Line to nearby La Salle University.

It’s a limited-time deal, but the university and the company both hope it leads to a larger partnership.

From now until March 7, anyone can travel between an established pickup spot at La Salle’s School of Business and the Olney Transportation Center for a flat rate of $1.99. Uber will consider extending future deals depending on the outcome of the pilot program.

La Salle officials consider the Uber arrangement a way to court city-dwelling millennials who rely on public transportation. In particular, they want to accommodate graduate students who may be traveling to and from the university at night.

“More and more of these people are living and working in the city and don’t have cars,” said Marysheila McDonald, interim dean of La Salle’s School of Business. “And that presented a problem: How are they going to get to campus safely and reasonably — particularly leaving us at night?”

Uber, meanwhile, gets access to a group of young potential customers who regularly need to make short trips.

“It’s a unique case where a lot of their students are commuters and there was a really specific use case we saw we could try out with the flat fares partnership,” said Uber Philly spokesman Craig Ewer.

“We know that the are a lot of commuter students as part of the MBA program,” he  said. “So providing an easy link to and from the train station should make it easier for folks to get to class in a way that’s safe and reliable.”

Safety a recurring theme

La Salle students say many of their peers don’t feel comfortable making the three-quarters-of-a-mile trek between campus and the Broad Street Line alone at night.

“The area that we’re in has a reputation,” said senior Anne Brewer. “If you’re smart and use the buddy system, I don’t think there’s usually a lot of issues, but I still do kind of think students look over their shoulder most of the time.”

La Salle has a shuttle service that runs every 20 minutes until 2 a.m during the week and 3 a.m. on weekends. It includes a stop at the Olney Transportation Center. But as it does in the off-campus world, Uber can offer a skosh more convenience for those in a rush.

“If you can have [a ride] on demand right when you get off the subway, I think students will definitely take the opportunity to use it,” said Brewer.

The partnership between La Salle and Uber is the first of its kind in Philadelphia, the company said. But Uber has worked with universities in the past, sometimes under the same claim of boosting student safety.

At the University of Southern California, for instance, students can take intra-campus Uber trips for free after a certain time at night if the university’s shuttle service is already booked. A similar arrangement exists at Georgetown University.

Like La Salle, USC and Georgetown are located in major cities.

Ewer, the Uber spokesman, says partnerships with other Philadelphia schools are coming “soon.”

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