Ride With Me – a new way for youth to safely get around Chicago

Jackie Moore

Photo by Max Herman

Jackie Moore with a trophy she won in a robotics competition and a CNC machine her students created at LevelUP summer camp.

It’s a summer afternoon, and Jackie Moore has the full attention of a room full of teenagers. Camp for the day has just ended. Except instead of hiking and making s’mores, kids who attend camp at LevelUP, a robotics workspace located in Chicago’s Ford City Mall, do things like create prototypes out of raw materials and learn about data visualization.

Moore has over a decade of experience working with young people, and in addition to leading the LevelUP summer camp, she is also one of the creators of an app called RideW/Me.

RideW/Me was created to provide a range of transit options to help youth to travel around the city together so they can attend programs and events easily and safely. The app was developed by a team of volunteer students, teachers, developers, and designers through Mozilla Hive Chicago, a network of local organizations that work to provide educational opportunities for young people.

Moore is well-acquainted with accessibility issues for youth in Chicago. Her program used to be located at the Illinois Institute of Technology before moving to the mall. “We were there during the early parts of gentrification,” Moore said. “So the students who lived in the area didn’t feel comfortable coming on campus. For some people, it was an inconvenience for them. …as a 14-year-old, getting to 35th and State Street was a challenge,” she said.

Though it’s not available to the public yet, the RideW/Me app will have a demo at the Chicago Southside Mini Maker Faire in August.

The Reporter caught up with Moore at LevelUP in the Ford City Mall to talk about her work.

How did the RideW/Me app come about?

I was reading something about the waggler bee, and it caught my attention because a waggler bee’s job is to find a new hive. When it finds the hive, it goes back and it leads the other bees to the new hive. We need wagglers for our kids. For instance (with travel), some people carpool. Some people just commute together on public transportation. Some walk together. Some bike together. We had a working group on the waggler concept. We put together storyboards. We worked with the Hive Chicago Transportation Working group of youth over [at Hive Chicago Buzz] because I’m a firm believer that the tool means nothing if it’s not what the kids want.

What’s an example of a time when their input made a difference?

We really thought that the biggest problem was that it was tough to get discount passes. That really wasn’t their concern. We thought that having something like an “Uber for kids” would be kind of cool. We can, as an organization, actually hire cars to pick up kids along the route. And we thought that that was going to be a really “wow” moment. Instead kids said, “Yeah, that sounds kind of good but could you put a GPS tracker on it so we know where that person’s taking us?” That blew my mind. I didn’t expect that. I wasn’t aware that they were that concerned about their personal safety. They said, “No, I want somebody to know where I am at all times.” If they get into this car, they want to know that some responsible adult – including their parents – knew where they were, in case the driver takes them somewhere other than where they should go. I was totally blindsided by that.

What were their other concerns?

The other thing was that it was important for them to know who else was on the route. They wanted to know “If you tell us we can take the number 27 bus to Chestnut Street, is anyone I know going to be on that bus riding with me? I don’t get home until 9:30 at night. Am I gonna be on that bus alone?” So the social nature of commuting is a little bit more important to them than I expected. In those ways they kind of shaped what we were going to offer. We did not, at that time, elect to put a GPS tracker in. We thought there were too many privacy issues with that, and we knew there were other apps that their parents could use to address that problem. But it did cause us to stop and think about we need to make certain that they feel safe.

Can you walk me through how to use the RideW/Me app?

As a student, I hear about an event, and I want to go. So I use the RideW/Me app, and I look at that event. I want to find out: How can I get there from my school? What are the options? What CTA routes will get me there? And who is going to be leaving my school going there so I can connect with them? At a minimum – it’s an evolving app – we’d know the number of students going there. And then I have access to other information about people who have given permission to do that. So I could say that I don’t want anybody to know my route and I won’t show up. And others may say, “Sure we’ll share it.” So there’s permission being given. So I’m going to answer this question assuming that everyone has given permission. So when I get ready to go somewhere, I can see who else is going and we can ride together. And we can make the decision on which routes we’re going to take. Because there are several routes you can take even from the same location.

This app started in Chicago. Are any concerns that RideW/Me is addressing that are specific to this city?

Chicago is the most segregated city. Some of the concerns that the kids have have nothing to do with the infrastructure of the transportation system. Chicago has one of the better transportation systems in the United States. But there are some problems that are unique to Chicago. A teen can’t safely travel down Halsted Street from one end to the other, which is one bus ride, without at some point feeling fearful. And it doesn’t matter whether that teen is very reserved, or a gangbanger. Because traveling through Halsted Street alone, you go through several gang territories. There are gangs everywhere, I understand that. But I think that Chicago has unique geographical barriers that will never show up on a transportation study because, yes, you can get from point A to point B, but can you do so safely?

What do you see for the future of RideW/Me?

I’m hoping that every learning opportunity can be represented or accessible from this app, and that the organizations presenting those learning opportunities can present a menu of (transportation) choices to the students. Then a student who may decide, “I’m not even gonna look into this because I can’t get there,” can say, “Oh, I didn’t know there were these options, I’m gonna at least check it out.”

This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.