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Opinion: Gopher Chauffeur, unreliable but irreplaceable

The Gopher Chauffeur is becoming less reliable when students need it most.
Image by CJ Bonk
The University of Minnesota Police Department on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2023.

After a campus shooting threat last week, safety is a growing concern at the University of Minnesota. University services like Gopher Chauffeur have long been integral in making students feel safe, but institutional problems are preventing their efficiency. 

As classes resume their previous pace, it is important students are aware of what safety protocols to take to avoid potentially dangerous situations. 

The University has various safety resources students can take advantage of. Campus programs such as 624-WALK, GopherTrip and the Rave Guardian app were all created in hopes students would use them to get home safely. 

Through these programs, students can calculate reliable public transit routes or even call a security team member to walk them home. But no system ever quite reached the popularity of the Gopher Chauffeur, a student-founded rideshare program for all University students. 

The Gopher Chauffeur has provided over 190,000 rides since 2008, delivered by a team of 55 employees and six vans. However, as the demand for Gopher Chauffeurs has risen, the ridesharing service has continued to leave students in the cold.

“It definitely is a really good idea,” said Joy Mitchell, a first-year student at the University. “It should be really convenient, but it honestly gets hard when you have to wait so long for a ride, especially at nighttime.”

For a system that has been commended for its efficiency, the Gopher Chauffeur is becoming increasingly hard to depend on. Many students on campus rely on the service to get home at night, whether that’s from class, hanging out with friends or anything else that might take them far away from home. As the weather has worsened, this system has faced an onslaught of demand but hasn’t shown much improvement in recent months. 

“It’s not unusual to wait an hour or two for a ride,” Mitchell said. “I personally stopped using it because of how long it takes. But I know people who have had to wait an hour and a half or even two hours just to get a five-minute ride home.” 

Contrary to popular opinion, Gopher Chauffeur isn’t stalling due to the number of students calling for the service. Rather, the issue that makes the service ineffective is an issue with the app itself. 

“It’s unfortunately just an app malfunction,” said Elle Smarzinski, a Gopher Chauffeur driver. “Instead of calculating how long people have been waiting, the app gives us pickups by distance, which often really sucks for students who have been waiting a long time.”

TransLoc, the app used to call Gopher Chauffeurs, has been known to malfunction for a long time, according to Smarzinski. Because the app categorizes rides by efficiency for the driver rather than the order of who requested one, getting a quick ride home is purely luck of the draw.

In a time where campus safety feels uncertain, the efficiency of services like the Gopher Chauffeur is more important than ever. Even empty threats such as Rongstad’s have continued to make students feel unsafe on their own campus. 

However, there are steps students can take to increase the likelihood of safety. 

“Definitely make use of all the resources you have access to,” Smarzinski said. “Call people to walk you home. Walk in groups. Be aware of your surroundings and try to walk where there’s light. [There are] definitely measures that you can take when the Gopher Chauffeur isn’t an option.”

Hopefully, students continue to prioritize safety as the Gopher Chauffeur team continues to work out app issues. The service has become a critical component of campus safety that students deserve to be able to rely on. I urge the Gopher Chauffeur to revise their system and ensure the ridesharing program provides what it promised: a safe ride, anytime. 

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  • Valeria Lopez
    Jan 23, 2024 at 11:51 am

    Remember to give us, the drivers, grace. we’ve been short staffed for the majority of fall semester and we’re just now getting back on our feet. we love our jobs and will continue to do our best to serve the students here at the U