OACS partners with Lyft to provide Vanderbilt students free transportation to service organizations


Emma Mattson, Assistant Campus Editor

Students engaged in co-curricular service work can now receive free transportation to their service sites through the popular ride-sharing service Lyft.

This fall, Vanderbilt’s Office of Active Citizenship and Service (OACS) piloted a program which provides Lyft codes to students traveling to service organizations within Davidson County, TN. These codes are valid for recurring rides to a specific location throughout the semester.

According to OACS Assistant Director Meagan Smith, approximately 230 students have utilized Lyft codes this semester. Since many of these students use the same Lyft code for multiple rides or to transport multiple students at once, OACS estimates the program will have supplied approximately 1250 rides by the end of the semester.

Before this fall, OACS leased six vehicles from the car rental company Enterprise. Students could use these vehicles to drive themselves to their service work, diminishing the out-of-pocket expenses typically involved in such transportation.

The rental car program had several drawbacks. First, the cars could only be driven by student drivers certified through Vanderbilt’s Office of Risk and Insurance Management. This limited the number of students who could actually utilize the program.

In addition, the vehicles were expensive to maintain. Besides the initial cost of the Enterprise lease, OACS had to cover general vehicle upkeep, all gas expenses, and the price of six parking spaces on campus.

Now, Smith said, all that money can go towards a different purpose.

“We’ve been able to use the money we had been using to lease the vehicles, maintain the vehicles, put gas in the vehicles and air in the tires, repairs, registration, and the parking spaces, and use that for lyft codes instead,” Smith said.

The new program also streamlines the transportation process for students.

“You just plug in a code to your phone, and you’re never charged at all for the ride,” Smith said. “You don’t have to come to OACS to pick up the keys, you don’t have to worry about putting gas in the vehicle, you don’t have to be reimbursed, so I think it really increases the ease of use for students.”

Students can also apply submit requests for Lyft ride to one-time service events, like walks that benefit charity. If the ride is approved, OACS will use their own business account to schedule the ride for the student, up to a week in advance.

Smith said the Lyft program also ties into Future VU, the comprehensive long-term plan for the University introduced in 2015, as well as Immersion Vanderbilt.

“With the introduction of the Immersion Vanderbilt graduation requirement, we anticipate that even more students will be interested in pursuing that Civic and Professional pathway,” Smith said, referring to one of the program’s four possible project pathways. “And they will need transportation, too.”

Before students can receive a Lyft code, OACS must approve the organization where they wish to serve. The organization itself then must also agree to the Dean of Students non-discrimination policy.

“We just want to make sure that any Vanderbilt resources supporting students travelling for community engagement– that those resources are being inclusive,” Smith said. “We want to make sure that students are walking into welcoming environments.”

OACS will meet this month with Lyft representatives to reflect upon the program’s results from this semester and to discuss changes to provide access to even more students.

Applications for Spring 2019 Lyft codes are scheduled to open in late November. More information about the OACS Lyft program, as well as the form for organization approval and the list of approved service organizations, can be found here.