More Students Begin Using BearWALK 2.0

Kevin Foote/Staff

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Though UCPD and the UC Berkeley Parking and Transportation department's launch of BearWALK 2.0 this semester has been followed by an increase in the use of the service overall, BearWALK officials say most students prefer to use the service's original method.

The updated service, launched Jan. 18, is an automated version of BearWALK that tracks GPS-enabled Bear Transit Night Safety Shuttles on a live map and allows students to request an escort online, or through an automated call using only a student ID number. Previously, students were required to call the service's phone number and speak to a UCPD dispatch officer to find when and where the next shuttle would be or to request an escort.

However, even with the new services, most students are still using the old method, according to UCPD Safety Program Administrator Carol Alfano.

Although the program makes minor policy changes every year, according to Alfano, the launch of BearWALK 2.0 marks the first time that students can track night safety shuttles in real time and request an escort dispatch online.

Jointly funded by UCPD and Parking and Transportation, Alfano said this system was created through the collaborative efforts of community service officer escorts that wanted to improve the efficiency of the program and to avoid the busy signals, dropped calls and hang-ups that many students complained of while calling the UCPD dispatch to request an escort.

The CSO escorts modeled BearWALK 2.0 after similar automated night safety systems at Georgia Institute of Technology and Duke University and used technology developed by RideCell, a company that specializes in optimizing travel times, to track night safety shuttles.

Senior Janet Smith, a CSO supervisor, said an impetus to create the online tracking and dispatch process also stemmed from the idea that students could be on their laptops and request an escort in the library without having to call BearWALK.

"This system is much easier to access than calling a number," she said.

Smith, who has worked at BearWALK since the fall of 2007, said the new system is also more convenient for CSO escorts.

"Before, we would talk to students the whole time between when they called and when a CSO came to meet them," she said. "Having an automated dispatch service makes our job easier as we are not disturbed when we are working."

However, having an automated voice at the other end of the receiver dissuaded students from using BearWALK 2.0's dispatch service in the early weeks of its launch, according to Smith.

"We noticed a decrease in the number of people using the program in the beginning because people were not used to having machine answer," Smith said.

But Smith said that the numbers are now rising back to previous levels, possibly due to the fact that students are beginning to spend long hours in the library studying for midterms.

In recent years, the service has seen an increase in the number of students that use it. Last week, 1,187 students rode the South Side Night Safety Shuttle, compared to 559 during the same week in 2010, according to Alfano.

Though more students are using the service, most are still choosing to bypass the new online request and automated call systems when requesting a CSO escort and choose instead to talk to a UCPD dispatch officer, according to Alfano.

Because UCPD does not have the staffing or phone lines to accommodate that type of phone traffic, callers are increasing their chances of being put on hold, or dropped, Alfano said.

The automated call system created for the updated service remembers every student's previous location and if a student calls again, will prompt the student to either select a previous location or enter a new one.

"If students will use the automated system and web system, they will find it to be much more convenient," Alfano said. "There will also be a greater number of calls we can receive and service."


Contact Amruta Trivedi at [email protected]

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