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University gets new ride-sharing program

University gets new  ride-sharing program

Student Senate passed a bill Monday bringing Zimride, a ride-sharing social network, to the university.

The body, in a 19-8 roll-call vote, agreed to fund $4,000 towards the website, which represents one third of the total cost. The rest of the $12,000 will be covered equally by the parking office and the Student Offices of Sustainability.

This new program, which allows users to match up with a driver or a rider for either long distance journeys or simply trips to school, will replace the current system.

SOS Director Ben Ponkratz said Zimride is significantly better than the current system. For instance, Zimride can connect with public transportation and other universities whereas the old system can not. He also said its age shows.

“The current system is a dinosaur,” Ponkratz said. “Students don’t know about it … It’s sort of like a campus secret almost.”

Coordinator of the parking office Kim O’Kelley was contacted by Zimride in February and thought the program looked very good when they demonstrated it to her. She said the parking situation will get worse in the coming years and Zimride will hopefully help.

Sen. April Ross used the current ride board a lot, but found issues with it especially over Thanksgiving break.

“I seemed to be the only person on campus heading towards Rockford, Ill.,” she said. “Even if there were people on campus, they weren’t using the rideboard.”

Ponkratz said he saw that only about 100 people were using ride board over Thanksgiving break.

In the Nov. 28 meeting, Zimride representative Amy Fox said she expected to see between 1,000 to 3,000 people using the website.

Sen. Melissa Opitz had a much more positive review of the current board.

“I’ve never not been able to fill my car if I wanted to,” she said. “I think the current system is very effective.”

Senate’s agreement to fund the website comes with a required three-year contract with Zimride.

O’Kelly said this was not a problem with her.

“I’ve talked to some of the other campuses (that use Zimride in the state),” she said, “and I’ve heard pretty positive feedback from the ones that are using it.”

Some senators who voted against the bill, like Opitz, were worried about having to enter into a multi-year contract.

“I think that’s absolutely frightening that we can’t have a trial period,” she said. “If Zimride is not any good, there’s no way we can get out of it and we’re stuck funding it for three years.”

To remedy these fears somewhat, Vice President Mark Morgan, who voted for the bill, introduced an amendment that will allow the Finance Commission to opt out of paying their portion of the funding next year. If they vote to continue funding, it will be good for the next two years. If this happens, then the SOS has to cover the funding gap with their own funds or they must find another way.

It passed by a ballot vote 17-12.

Morgan said because SOS pushed for Zimride, they should have no issue funding Senate’s portion if need be.

“This could have very, very easily been singularly funded out of the SOS … they want buy in from (Student Senate),” he said, “I think it’s more than acceptable for (Student Senate) to want outcomes for it to continue for more than a year.”

However, Finance Director Patrick Martin said this may set a dangerous precedent.

“I have a very, very severe problem with mandating how much money a future commission is going to spend,” he said.

Ponkratz said he places trust in the body to continue their funding portion and voted for the amendment.

He said now the university will begin working with Zimride marketers to begin advertising for the program and garnering interest.

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