Posted October 27, 2015
A Safe Ride Home Program is coming to UW-River Falls that will allow students to get a free taxi ride home from anywhere in River Falls.
At its Oct. 20 meeting, Student Senate passed the Safe Ride Home Allocation, which would use $5,400 from the Senate funding pool to support a trial run of the program. The program will use the River Falls Taxi Service and would allow students a free ride back to campus or back to their off-campus housing from anywhere in River Falls. The service will be available from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. Thursday through Saturday and will run for 15 weeks, starting in November and ending in March, according to the meeting’s minutes document.
With its usual hours ending at 10 p.m., it costs $30 an hour for the River Falls Taxi Service to offer extended hours for the program. Because of the price, the program will be using one taxi to make sure that students get home safely.
According to UWRF Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Gregg Heinselman, this is the first time that UWRF has taken on a safe ride home program. Heinselman said that the reasons the university hasn’t attempted it is due to the easy access to Main Street from the university and the lack of public transportation in River Falls.
However, this is not the first time that UWRF has teamed up with the River Falls Taxi Service. Through UWRF Student Health and Counseling Services, students of the university are able to get free roundtrip transportation, provided that they show their student ID, to the Vibrant Health Family Clinic, the Pierce County Reproductive Health Service, and the St. Croix Valley Sexual Assault Response Team Center in River Falls, according to the university website.
This kind of program is common within the UW-System, with several universities funding variations of the Safe Ride Home Program. UW-Eau Claire, for example, has a partnership with the Eau Claire Transit, in which university students, faculty and staff are able to ride the bus for free with the presentation of a valid UW-Eau Claire Blugold ID card, according to the university’s website. UW-Madison has several transportation options, including a free UW Campus Bus and a Badger Cab that runs for 24 hours a day, but costs money to use.
Student Senate’s approval of the allocation did not come without debate, with 10 votes in favor of the program and five votes against. Opposition to the program included concern over the service being used as a form of a “drunk bus” and encouraging students to drink alcohol and become intoxicated.
Kelsey Kuehnhold, a senior animal science major who is a member of Senate, said that although she believes it will be a good program, she doesn’t like the idea of Senate funding something that would only help a handful of students.
“I would rather see the money put towards something that is clearly for all the students on campus,” said Kuehnhold. “Where it’s not going to be underlined as just a safe ride home from the bars.”
Senate President Christopher Morgan said that he is not surprised by the difference of opinion in Senate, and that the Safe Ride Home Program will be marketed in a way that will not highlight drinking.
“I knew going in that there were people that saw it just as an issue regarding drinking, which is not what it’s about at all,” Morgan said. “It’s about keeping students safe.”
Danielle Sveiven, a sophomore sociology student, said that she likes the idea of a Safe Ride Home Program coming to UWRF.
“I think it’s really good. I don’t personally go out on the weekends, I’m scared to. But I think it’s good for the people that do because it’s a way to get back,” said Sveiven.
When it comes to how the program will deal with intoxicated minors, Heinselman said that the university is not looking to be involved in citing or dealing with conduct aspects of the program unless it becomes a major issue or concern. Along with that, Morgan said that students will not have to identify their age when they get in the taxi, they will just have to show proof that they are a student of the university.
“In terms of how do we get students to trust the program, it is marketing it in a way that we say we do not care what you were doing before you stepped foot in the car,” Morgan said. “Our main mission is to get you home safe.”
The Safe Ride Home Program is a pilot, meaning that after the 15 weeks, Senate will re-evaluate the usefulness of the program and determine whether it should continue into the next year. If the program does prove to improve student safety, the university will look at adding a $1 to $1.50 fee to continue to fund it.
The program is still in the planning process when it comes to marketing and how students will be able to use the service. Current plans include handing out business cards to students that would include the phone number of the taxi service and a place where the student could write their address to give to the taxi driver. Senate also is planning on partnering with the Residence Hall Association and Greek Life in order to spread the word about how students can leave events safely, according to Morgan.
“It’s a small investment on behalf of Student Senate to give a try at student safety on our campus,” Morgan said. “If it works, that’s amazing. If it doesn’t, we can look back and say we didn’t sit idle while students were unsafe.”