Safe Ride keeps students safe but faces challenges

Safe Ride, an “assault prevention service,” plays an important role in shuttling the University of Oregon community for free, despite looming challenges.

The shuttle service’s recent history of budget issues factors into the increasing number of riders the shuttle service has to turn away every year. Still, Safe Ride gives roughly 15,000 rides to UO students, staff and faculty members per year.

“We’re one of the first programs like this,” said Safe Ride’s scheduling director, Rilee Dockins. “We’ve had a few other schools reach out to us in the past year looking to implement similar services.”

According to its website, Safe Ride’s mission is to “provide inclusive, safe and accessible alternatives to traveling alone at night.” The service aims never to turn away riders and encourages volunteers and staff to use gender-neutral pronouns.

But Safe Ride wasn’t always so inclusive. The service was founded in 1985, giving rides solely to women. In 1988 and 1995, Safe Ride faced a lawsuit and formal grievance for gender discrimination. In 2001, it expanded to provide rides to men.

Remnants of Safe Ride’s roots are tangible today. Its office — shared with a pro-choice student organization, Students for Choice — is located in the Women’s Center. The shuttle service works in tandem with events like Take Back the Night and trains its staff on current issues related to sexual assault nationwide and at UO, such as mandatory reporting.

The Emerald participated in a ride along on Tuesday from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. During that time, 12 riders were transported in one of two vans, a low to normal amount for midweek, according to Dockins. All of the riders were female.

The first two riders said they were freshmen heading to Valley River Center to get their nails done for sorority recruitment events.

While it might seem on the surface like students would abuse the shuttle, Dockins said every ride stays true to Safe Ride’s mission. One of the freshmen riders, Jamie Arnold, said she first used the shuttle Monday night because “some creepy guy” was following her.

“Being a preventative organization, you never know what could have happened had we not given someone a ride,” Dockins said. “There are some people who use us every day, or people who call and say, ‘I’m sorry, I know I’m not going far.’ But we don’t want people to feel sorry for using us.”

The shuttle is funded by mandatory student incidental fees, and its budget is controlled by the Associated Student of UO.

Dockins named the budget as Safe Ride’s biggest challenge. In the 2015-16 school year, Safe Ride reported giving 13,688 rides but turning away some 5,943 rides.

“We do have a limit to how many rides we can give based on the size of our budget,” Dockins said. “How many people we can staff per night determines the number of vans we can run and then that determines how many rides we can give.”

Safe Ride currently owns four vans but typically runs only two or three a night, Dockins said. The service does receive student volunteers from the Women and Gender Studies program, but they work infrequent hours on weekends.

Safe Ride was granted an additional $8,000 from ASUO in May but used that money to develop a web-based application in partnership with the Designated Driver Shuttle service. The application is “still under works,” according to Dockins.

When ASUO granted Safe Ride those funds, a few of the senators voiced concerns that the money would be better spent expanding staffing or vans.

Dockins said she expects Safe Ride’s budget to remain the same this year.

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Emily Olson

Emily Olson

Emily Olson is an associate news editor at the Emerald. She likes coffee.