By Cole Caviston, Staff Writer
The first Friday night of the semester is filled with packs of party-going students, and there to safely deliver them from one destination to another are the Campus Rides vans.
In the passenger seat of one such van, Avram Niebling is bent over a white iPad, keeping track of the next pick-up spot for students. The night has been hectic, with Niebling constantly talking over the phone to arrange rides, often negotiating with how many can be allowed inside the van.
“Friday nights early are the worst because everyone’s trying to get out drunk,” Niebling said. “Saturday is a lot more calm.”
Niebling, a UNH graduate, co-founded Campus Rides in 2013 and has worked in a variety of roles within the groups including dispatcher, marketer and driver. He usually drives himself, but is riding shotgun that night to oversee new van driver Paul Jeppesen.
Jeppesen is a friend of Niebling’s who was working his second night as a van driver. Throughout the night, he receives directions from Niebling while navigating throughout the dark streets of Durham.
“I used to be in law school, but I dropped out last week so I needed something to do,” Jeppesen said.
This night is the first night that they are using an updated app system, allowing customers to let Campus Rides know their location and then select the destination they would like to be taken to using an online map of the campus. This information is then transmitted to Niebling’s iPad.
Despite the effectiveness of the app, Niebling still uses his smartphone to call up students. However, there are a few changes that are coming for the app in the following week.
“Eventually, this app will have an algorithm in it that accepts the rides based on the two vans’ positions or how many vans we have, and it will translate a direction to the driver through a headset. [The iPad] will still be here, but it won’t be as interactive,” Niebling said. “The big one that’s going to be in next week is going to automatically group the rides for us.”
The past two years have seen Campus Rides increase its services as it has grown in popularity among the UNH community. The business is open to both students and faculty, but has found a niche among students going out at night.
With the need for a stronger business model, Campus Rides has implemented several changes to its structure for this semester. They no longer rely entirely on tips and donations for funding, something they had to do when faced with the legalities of transporting passengers for profit.
Previously, Campus Rides serviced Durham, Dover and Newmarket, but currently only work in Durham. According to Niebling, since Durham is the most densely populated of the towns, narrowing their work radius allows them to service a greater number of customers.
Originally a weekend service, Campus Rides now operates seven days a week, with differing hours for each day. They also are pivoting away from employing student-owned cars for transport, which was used in the beginning of the business, and bought another van.
“We managed to build up a pretty good fleet before but that’s no way to build an actual business model,” Niebling said.
Campus Rides has spread its business out of state to the University of Vermont, where they provide daytime services. It even made a contract with UVM to provide on-demand service to students living off-campus.
In an email, Niebling described Campus Rides as a valuable service for safe transportation for people both on and off campus.
“The aim of the new service is to provide safe, reliable, on-demand transportation to the greater UNH community,” Niebling said. “While we expect students to be the primary users, anyone living in our service area, including UNH faculty and staff, can utilize the service.”
Whenever any group enters the van, the smell of alcohol becomes potent. Conversation is loud and raucous, with the occasional profanity.
Many students have been using Campus Rides since the beginning. Throughout the night, students getting a ride will exchange a familiar greeting with Niebling before settling in. For most of them, the service has been a great advantage in transportation.
Other students also commented that they thought that Campus Rides was superior to Safe Rides, the service offered by the UNH Transportation Services.
Many students have used Campus Rides as an alternative to Wildcat Transit or driving themselves into campus.
“They started out getting drunk kids from A to B and now they’re getting sober kids to class,” said Chris Plankey, a sophomore.
“There was a party in the rain that I wanted to go to. It was raining. I didn’t want to walk. They got me to the party, warm and dry,” Plankey said. “Their buses are accurate on the map, unlike the UNH app, and it’s really nice to take what’s like an exclusive ride to class.”
While he expects the system will improve over the coming weeks, Niebling believes that the service Campus Rides provides is essential for many across UNH and feels their system should be more widely adopted.
“Our weekend service reduces drinking and the risk of assault,” Niebling said. “The daytime service, if adopted widely, could decrease congestion in town significantly.”
Follow Cole Caviston at @