New ‘safe ride’ program grew out of campus tragedy, says Student Senate president

Posted November 5, 2015

The Student Senate at UW-River Falls recently approved a pilot program to provide students a free ride home anywhere in River Falls from Thursday to Saturday nights, but some opponents say the service will encourage students to drink.

The program, which will cost $5,400, would offer a free ride home to UW-River Falls students who present a valid student ID. The program would extend River Falls Taxi Service hours from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m., Thursday through Saturday, starting in November and would run for 15 weeks.

Student Senate President Christopher Morgan said the program did not get started in order to promote drinking.

“It simply didn’t,” he said.

He said the need for the program was first brought about after hearing stories surrounding the death of Robert “Bobby” Sontag, a 20-year-old dairy science major who was found dead May 4 in the Kinnickinnic River. He last had been seen in downtown River Falls after a night of drinking and had become separated from a friend as he walked home.

“We used a tragedy from last year, where someone died from unsafe drinking,” Morgan said. “That’s what really fostered this program. But the larger discussion at hand was how do we use this tragedy to promote student safety as a whole.”

UWRF Police Chief Karl Fleury said this is more than just a “sober cab” for students. It gives students access to a ride when they did not have one before the program.

“Unfortunately, we get those nights that dip well below zero,” Fleury said. “They might find themselves at a friend’s house, activity, or an event off campus where they may have walked in the past. This gives them opportunity to make that phone call and have a ride back to campus.”

Morgan said students should use this program whenever they feel unsafe getting home at night, and also hopes students will use this instead of deciding to drive after they have been drinking.

“The sole purpose of the program was to get students out of unsafe situations, back into wherever they live at night,” Morgan said.

“I think it has merit to take a look at it, to go ahead and see if it’s going to work,” Fleury said. “I think with the fact that it’s a pilot program, they will be able to gather more data.”

Morgan said that during the 15 weeks that the service will run, Student Senate will extensively evaluate the effectiveness of the program looking at things like ridership, where most of the calls are coming from, and where the high traffic areas are going to be. After those 15 weeks are completed, Student Senate will re-evaluate the need for the program.

Fleury said that there are not a lot of ways in which students can get around as it is right now, citing a lack of public transportation in River Falls.

“We’re not a large city that has a bus service or multiple taxi services that are available for (students),” Fleury said. “Our services are not as extensive as that.”

The program not only would provide another method of transportation for students, but offer it at no cost to them.

Morgan said he is proud of the fact the allocation passed by a supermajority, or a two-thirds vote across the Senate.

“I know the majority of student body knows that this isn’t an enabler of drinking,” he said. “It’s simply a way to get students out of harm’s way in the middle of winter at night.”