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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Safe Ride drives down the risk

Gordon Bates
Gordon Bates / Arizona Daily Wildcat Julia Black, a religious studies sophomore, delivers students to destinations within close proximity to UA campus while working at Saferide on Sunday, Feb 12. Black has been working for Saferide for about a year and was driving during last year’s Spring Fling, when they delivered 1,019 calls.

Safe Ride driver Julia Black, a religious studies sophomore, knows the streets around campus like the back of her hand.

“My friends call me a GPS,” Black said while driving to pick up a passenger during a double shift on the job. “I usually get calls from them all the time asking where certain apartment complexes are because they know that I will know.”

It’s Sunday night and, in the last 45 minutes, Black has picked up and dropped off five students traveling to and from campus.

For the past year, Black has been a driver for Safe Ride, a car service provided by Associated Students of the University of Arizona that offers students an alternative to walking alone at night. In her time working there, Black said she has met an array of people and has had a handful of strange experiences.

“I’ve gotten proposed to a few times, which has been really interesting,” Black said. “There is no one type of person who uses Safe Ride, everyone does. I think that is what makes this job fun — because you get to see such a slice of life from everyone.”

Safe Ride has been a part of the UA since 1982 when it began taking passengers with one loaned vehicle and a small volunteer staff. Today, the service operates on grants and student fees from the UA and employs a staff of 45 undergraduates. It owns six sedans, four minivans and two compact cars.

“I think Safe Ride is great for students to have as a campus job,” Black said. “You learn a lot, you get to hear a lot of on-campus gossip, which is funny and you leave with some really good stories.”

For Black, a typical shift begins when a student calls to request a ride and is connected to an operator in the Safe Ride office, located in the Student Union Memorial Center. Those who work in the office take down the caller’s location and the number of people they are traveling with. Safe Ride regulations dictate that vehicles carry up to three passengers; any more, and another car has to be requested.

“I deal with the people on the phone and try to get them on a route that is most convenient,” said Safe Ride operator Lo Bannerman, a junior studying nutritional sciences and psychology. “I like working here, we’re kind of like a family.”

After the call has been received and logged, a radio dispatcher informs a Safe Ride driver. Eight to 11 cars are typically used during regular operating hours, and each vehicle is given a nickname to help differentiate which ones are on route.

“We have two cars called Luke and Leia and minivans named Ashley and Mary-Kate,” Black said. “We also have a car named Van Gogh that we think would be fitting if it lost a side mirror.”

Black said all cars used by Safe Ride drivers are on a first come, first serve basis, so she tries to arrive at work early enough to get some of the newer cars with a working stereo and CD player. During busy nights like Thursdays, all vehicles are in use by Safe Ride drivers. Safe Ride picked up a record number of 1,019 passengers on April 7, 2011, the Thursday of Spring Fling.

“Thursdays are definitely hands down, without a doubt the busiest out of the whole week,” Bannerman said. “It’s crazy, but I can imagine Fridays would be busy too but we close early at 9:30.”

Economics freshman Alan Jaske said he uses Safe Ride frequently to get to his apartment located on Oracle Road, and that he has noticed Thursdays are a busy night as well.

“I know that if I call on a Thursday for a ride it might take me longer than usual to connect with the operator,” Jaske said. “I also know that because I live on the edge of the boundary, I’m usually the last to be picked up and dropped off.”

Safe Ride provides its services within a 1.5-mile radius of the campus. The zone shrinks to about a mile away from campus 20 minutes before Safe Ride closes. Because it is a service used to promote a safe commute to and from campus during school days, Safe Ride is not open on Saturdays. Drivers also have the right to deny a passenger service if they do not follow the Safe Ride rules or appear intoxicated.

Black said she has never denied a person a ride since working for Safe Ride and that, for the most part, these occurrences rarely happen.

“I heard of other drivers getting to that point or almost getting to that point when they could not take a student,” Black said. “But it’s usually because they are not respecting the rules more than anything else.”

Whenever a passenger leaves Black’s car, she makes a point of wishing him or her a good night before driving off to pick up another, she said.

“I love getting to talk to people and learned so much about our campus and the makeup of our students,” Black said. “I have a great job.”

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