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Published: Wednesday, 1/5/2011

UT students offered taxi-fare debit cards

University of Toledo officials hope a new student transportation debit card specifically for taxi fares will open up the city and its cultural offerings to a potentially isolated student body.

And when alcohol is involved, students can use the cards to pay for a safe taxi ride back to campus.

The cards -- which can be purchased online at utrides.com and then picked up in room 1060 in Rocket Hall -- can be used only to pay fares with Black and White cabs, including trips to the airport. They can't be used for food at the cafeteria or for any other purpose, Larry Burns, UT's vice president for external affairs, said.

"The obvious one would be if people go out and they decide to drink alcohol, having the ability to take a cab and having a prepaid card makes it an easier decision to take a cab home," he said. "It doesn't encourage people to drink, but they have a card they've already paid for."

It also allows a group of students to ride in a Black and White cab for one fare without the typical extra passenger fee, he said.

Mr. Burns said some parents have caught on to the card, which has been available for only about two months. As money runs out, more can be added through an online transaction. Black and White Transportation, which has developed the system through its own software development company, plans to send reminder e-mails to students when their accounts hit $20 or less.

The company also has developed a smart-phone app that estimates someone's blood-alcohol level based on time and number of drinks. A black screen warns against driving after drinking and provides a link to hail a Black and White cab.

The university considers the transportation card program a step toward offering students more social options and a way to market the campus as a hipper, urban locale with easy access to art galleries, off-campus restaurants, and sporting events: There's the Warehouse District art scene, Toledo Art Museum, Westfield Franklin Park, Levis Commons in Perrysburg, and myriad destinations throughout Toledo and northwest Ohio, Mr. Burns said.

A ride from Rocket Hall to Fifth Third Field for a Mud Hens game costs about $15 each way, a company dispatcher said Tuesday. Mr. Burns said the "UT Rides Transportation Card" could make the university more attractive to prospects as it helps cultivate an urban cab culture that he's seen develop on other university campuses. His office studies other campuses to see which university programs and aspects of student culture are successful at promoting student safety and quality of life.

The research and his personal experience of visiting his nieces at the University of South Carolina in Columbia point to cab life as a large and useful part of student life, he said.

"[At the University of South Carolina], they have restaurants, nightclubs, sporting events, and clothing stores. Having a ready, available cab service makes that more obtainable," he said. "It's a close, inexpensive ride. And I don't believe we as a university have taken advantage of those possibilities. I would say at all of the other universities I visit, cabs are a much more regular way of life for students."

UT several years ago considered adding the option to its regular Rocket card that allows students to debit food and other items sold on campus. But the Black and White company card-swipe technology was incompatible, and a separate card was developed. They work just like the gift cards but are marketed directly to students.

UT asked The Blade to pay the cost of printing the cards, and in exchange the paper advertises on one side of the card. The other side features the Rockets mascot and the cab company phone numbers, including a second number specifically for sending text messages that hail cabs.

"Kids, they'd rather text than talk. It's not just a preventative for intoxication," said Scott Potter, co-owner of Black and White Transportation.

He said the firm is lobbying the city to allow more taxi stands downtown near the ballpark. He said more cabs in that part of town will promote safety for students and other people.

"Taxi cabs are extra eyeballs out on the street," Mr. Potter said.

Contact Christopher D. Kirkpatrick at: ckirkpatrick@theblade.com or 419-724-6134



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