Students, faculty and staff can now take free Uber rides to and from the Duke Lemur Center.

The pilot program between Duke and Uber, a ride-sharing service, began this week. It allows Duke community members traveling to the Lemur center for classes and research opportunities to use a special promotion code to cover the cost of the ride. If student feedback is positive, Duke Student Government hopes to work with the administration to expand the program to include Student Health Center and off-campus doctor’s offices.

“This increases people going to the Center, people can get involved in the Center and people can get jobs and not pay for the Uber there and back,” said sophomore Gerardo Parraga, a DSG senator for services who spearheaded the project. “If we really get a strong showing of people going to the Lemur Center and wanting to use this program, then we could maybe do that at the end of the semester.”

Parraga said that he modeled the initiative after the University of Florida’s Safe Rides program, which offered student discounts on rides from 10 p.m. until 3 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday. The Uber program will alleviate issues with the established Duke Vans service, Parraga explained.

“The problem with Duke Vans is that there aren’t many vans, so they’re always in constant use,” Parraga said. “The demand for the vans far exceeds the supply. Since Uber has infinitesimal demands, we could really see this ease the demand on Duke Vans to make Duke Vans more efficient for students who want to use that.”

Parraga began working on the Uber program five months ago with the end goal of improving campus transportation and safety. For now, the program’s physical limits are set by geomaps, in which Duke sets coordinates for the trip area. Students using a promo code provided after signing in with a NetID will have the cost of their rides billed directly to Duke, as long as the trip remains within the radius set in the geomaps. The maps are limited to a radius around East, West and Central Campus and the Lemur Center.

Kyle Cavanaugh, vice president for administration, said in a Duke Today release that Uber’s on-demand request model matches “how fluid our transportation needs can be.”

“This will offer an important expansion of travel options that can match the daily schedules of students and employees,” Cavanaugh said.

The expansion of the program depends on student usage in the pilot, Parraga explained. He noted that the more students provide feedback, the more quickly and easily it can be established as a full-fledged service.

Student safety was another major reason for pursuing this Duke-Uber partnership. Parraga said that there are many residential areas on campus that are far from bus stops, but are located where an Uber could easily pick students up directly from their dorm. This could make transportation around campus much safer.

In addition, the partnership could help improve students’ access to healthcare facilities.

Sophomore Courtney Scoufis—co-director of Fix My Campus and DSG senator for services—assisted Parraga with the project.

“I felt that means for accessing healthcare were unsatisfactory on campus,” Scoufis wrote in an email. “I found that my friends on Central Campus and East Campus were less likely to go to Student Health if they were sick, as it was more of a commute to get there when they were not feeling well.”

Healthcare facilities like Counseling and Psychological Services often refer students to off-campus doctors, but Parraga said statistics show that many students stop attending those appointments, citing inconvenience and cost of transportation as the main reasons.

In addition to transportation to healthcare facilities, Parraga said he would like to see the program include access to volunteering opportunities.

“I got an email from a student who said she wants to work with refugees around Durham, but she has no way of getting to them,” Parraga said. “If the student is making a difference in the community and connecting Duke and Durham, then that is something the school should fund.”

Parraga explained that DSG support has been influential in the recent developments. Initially, Parraga alone worked with administration to set up the pilot program, but he said the support of DSG now allows the Uber program to have a louder voice on campus.

Junior Tara Bansal, the DSG president-elect, noted that scaling the pilot program up will be a presidential initiative next year. She plans to work with the senators to lobby for the funding needed to expand the program to potentially replace Duke Vans.

“With a large number of students traveling off-campus regularly, virtually every student could opt in to use this program and the cost-saving to students is immediate and direct,” Bansal wrote in an email. “In five years, I would love to see this program operating as a 24/7 mechanism that will also take students into Durham and housing complexes.”