The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee offers free solutions for students’ transportation needs: a pass for public transit, the university housing shuttle loop and the Be On the Safe Side (BOSS) taxi-resembling service.
Most students prefer BOSS over public transit because of it’s direct location pick-up/drop-off. BOSS services students every evening from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. and travels within a five mile radius of campus. The service is paid through a biannual segregated fee of $11.90.
Although convenient, BOSS has its drawbacks — especially for students like Rhena Ripley. Ripley grew up in Appleton, Wisconsin and now resides in Milwaukee. She studies psychology and has an interest in social work. Ripley is a member of the Gamma Phi Beta Sorority, enjoys the guilty pleasures of reality television, and frequents the campus coffee shops for frappuccino pick-me-ups. The only thing that sets Ripley apart from other college students and their ability to utilize BOSS is her wheelchair. BOSS vans are not equipped with ramps.
“Wheelchair accessibility for BOSS has been researched extensively, yet presents many challenges,” BOSS Director Anthony Gomez said.
These challenges include purchasing private insurance for every vehicle and employee and a significant cost to train each employee on how to properly use the ramp equipment. Additionally, BOSS vans are replaced every three years, meaning all equipment would need to be uninstalled in one van and reinstalled in another frequently.
Ripley says she uses public transportation, but prefers not to during the winter.
“A lot of the times I have to stay around the dorms or union because it’s hard for me to fight the snow to get to the bus stop,” Ripley said.
Other students with disabilities face trouble using BOSS, too. Leah Hoffman, a student studying American Sign Language, works with residents of the Deaf and American Sign Language Living Learning Community. She says deaf students cannot request rides from BOSS off-campus because the service is limited to phone call requests.
“The idea of texting for BOSS came to my attention my freshman year from a friend of mine,” Hoffman said. “We used to have to make phone calls for any of our deaf friends because they were unable to do so themselves.”
Hoffman has since worked to bring the issue to the university’s attention.
“I’ve brought it up to UWM Police and University Housing members,” Hoffman said. “I was told the idea of text messaging requests would be passed along.”
Text requests still do not exist, nor is BOSS working to add it as an option.
“Students that are hard of hearing can come to the union and book a ride in person,” Gomez said.
Once the ride is booked, however, drivers find communicating with deaf students difficult. Student and BOSS employee Jess Yester had this experience.
“It posed a bit of a challenge, but it ended up working out since he was able to write his address on the driver’s clipboard,” Yester said.
Although public transportation allows access to the greater city of Milwaukee, students who require additional accommodation are still looking for UWM transportation services to provide solutions and access to the remote campus area.