BY RAEGAN NEUFELD
Over the last 16 years, more than 240,000 rides were given to students and community members through the transportation service Safe Ride. However, the pandemic made it so running the service became ineffective, and eventually stopped it altogether. Now, members of the university and community are working together to find a replacement.
Safe Ride began in 2005 through the Partnership for a Safer Community. Safe Ride was also provided on other campuses across Kansas. According to campus police chief Ed Howell, the Partnership was made up of representatives from the city, county, university and stakeholders. These groups helped fund the service.
“The Student Government passed a resolution that allowed a certain amount of student fees to go into that as well,” Howell said.
On Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday nights, Safe Ride operated late at night and into the early morning. One of the main goals was to combat drunk driving, but the service was a way for anybody to get places safely when they needed to.
“A big part of its audience would be drunk students, to keep them from getting a DUI,” Student Government Association President Mark Faber said, “But it also had a big part in the community as well.”
For example, Faber cited late-night workers as one group of people who took advantage of Safe Ride.
Howell also emphasized this aspect of the service.
“You didn’t have to be under the influence of alcohol to take advantage of the Safe Ride,” he said. “In fact, we had a lot of individuals that were using that as a means of transportation to get to Walmart, so it was all-encompassing.”
Like many other public services, Safe Ride faced a challenge when COVID-19 started to spread in March of 2020. The service used Access Transportation vehicles, which had to withdraw from the contract because they were unable to comply with restrictions.
“It played an extremely important role here at Fort Hays, students really utilized it a lot,” Faber said. “The reason it’s being phased out is because of COVID restrictions. Due to social distancing practices, there could only be one to two people on the shuttle bus at a time.”
This obviously made transportation difficult, and has led the Partnership to research alternative options. Faber also mentioned that SGA will be sending out a case study to student senators in order to hear their opinions.
As of now, there is no definitive transition plan. It is very important for the Partnership that they are able to replace Safe Ride with a service that is just as effective.
“The committee is looking at other options to see what we can do to provide a service that is equal, and that’s going to be a challenge,” Howell said.
Meetings between Howell, Faber, and representatives from the Hays police department have taken place where the options have been discussed.
“We’ve been talking about different programs to put in place, but we haven’t found any that would be viable yet,” Faber said.
Bob Duffy, Fort Hays’ Drug and Alcohol Counselor, is also a part of the Partnership. He discovered that another university in Kansas was able to replace Safe Ride, but the effectiveness was nowhere near what Safe Ride was able to accomplish.
“They [the other university] are proud that they replaced theirs, but their number of rides for the year was a little bit more than what we did in an average month,” he said. “I think it points out how good our service was.”
Both Duffy and Howell said that they are encouraging students and members of the community to make use of Uber, Lyft, and the taxi service.
Students and community members should also be aware of other ways to stay safe. In addition to the other public transportation, Duffy also mentioned an app called Circle of Six. With this app, users can pre-program a message that lets their friends know they need assistance getting home.
“It’ll use your GPS to send your coordinates to somebody else’s phone. Then the message can be sent to up to six different people by just pressing three buttons,” Duffy said.
Duffy gave several other suggestions, such as looking out for each other, designating sober drivers, having a list of friends to call when needed, and walking in groups when possible.
These practices, combined with the future replacement of Safe Ride, will provide even greater safety for the students and community of Hays.