Students raise concerns over now-reversed Fryft policy

Photo of moving cars on Figueroa Street outside of University Gateway apartments.
A student-initiated petition against the shared ride policy garnered over 3,000 signatures and detailed why the new policy was unsafe for students. (Charlie McCollum | Daily Trojan file photo)

When Caroline Fromm was deciding which college to attend, one of the things that motivated her to choose USC was the Lyft Safe Rides program. She appreciated that the University cared for the safety of the students to the extent that they were willing to subsidize rides at night. Fromm now has taken more than 150 Lyft rides, all courtesy of the University. 

In a now-reversed policy, students would have had to book individual shared rides instead of individual classic rides, the University announced, along with other changes to the Lyft Safe Rides program policy, in a communitywide email Dec. 3. The University announced the policy would not go into place during the spring semester following a surge in coronavirus cases in a communitywide email Jan. 14. 

Similar to the previous policy, the new Lyft policy required passengers to wear masks during the entire ride. As a new measure, passengers also had to leave the middle and front seats empty during rides. Both riders and drivers were able to cancel the ride without penalty if either party refused to follow the guidelines. 

Looking to stop the new policy’s implementation, Fromm, a sophomore majoring in communication, created a petition that garnered more than 3,000 signatures. In the petition’s description, Fromm highlighted situations where it might have proven unsafe to separate students who wished to travel together, such as students accompanying someone who is drunk or in an emergency, following a buddy system or avoiding the spread of the coronavirus, especially with surging omicron cases in Los Angeles. 

“When I read the policy, I was shocked. I love this school and I did not think that I would ever be in a position where I had to argue for my safety,” Fromm said. “I felt like I needed to do that when I heard the changes because they inhibit students’ ability to practice very sensible and common safety measures such as the buddy system.”

Martin Aguirre, a freshman majoring in theatre, said he believed the policy modifications only took into consideration the economic aspect of the program and disregarded the health and safety of the students. 

“At least when I’m with my friend group, I know that if someone catches COVID, I will be notified immediately,” Aguirre said. “I’ll get tested and we’ll isolate and do whatever we have to do. But, because this is someone who I don’t know, they could have COVID, and I will never know.”

Aguirre noted that the Fryft program is frequently used by students after parties. Being able to order individual rides let him accompany intoxicated friends to their homes and ensure their safety. Recent sexual assault allegations in the University added a layer of concerns for him.

“All the sexual assault allegations that have been coming to light reinforce the idea that because people go to USC, it doesn’t mean they’re good people,” Aguirre said.

Although students were able to choose to instead pay for individual Lyft rides, Aguirre said it proved expensive, even for short distance rides such as the ones covered by Fryft. 

“Not everyone has the luxury to say, ‘Yeah, I’ll pay $30 for a Lyft from the Row to my dorm.’” Aguirre said. “For [students], it was important in maintaining that equal standard for safety — not if you can afford safety, but, because you go to USC, you are guaranteed safety. Changing the policy starts bringing that inequality and making that inequality an issue where it shouldn’t be, and where the University has the power to not let it be an issue.” 

Sanaa Alam, a freshman majoring in biochemistry, said she believed the policy modification jeopardized students’ safety and took away students’ privileges. 

“It’s really a shame because that means I’m going to have to put myself in more risk in different situations depending on where I go at night,” Alam said in response to the now-reversed policy.

When reached for comment, Lyft Senior Communication Manager Ashley Adams referred the Daily Trojan to USC’s Director of Transportation Tony Mazza. 

“We are continuing to follow guidance from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health actively and monitoring the omicron variant in collaboration with our team of medical experts and county health experts,” Mazza said. “We will continue to make adjustments as necessary to support the health and well-being of our students.” 

Mazza declined to respond to the Daily Trojan’s request for comment about the rationale for the policy change and its potential effects on student safety, including coronavirus exposure and concerns of sexual assault.