One of the few things I remember about SOAR was watching a painful number of skits about the SAFE walk and SAFE ride services the University of Wisconsin offers. I remember my guide encouraging us to put the SAFE number in each of our cell phones, and like the fools we all were, we did.
Two years and countless calls to SAFE ride later I have never once gotten that free cab ride I heard so much about during SOAR. I am beginning to think it is some sort of campus legend because not only have I never received a ride, none of my friends who have called have either. In fact, I do not know anybody who knows anybody who has heard of anybody getting a SAFE ride.
I have never been in a situation where I was in dire need of a ride home, but there have been times I would have been more comfortable getting a ride. Many of my friends, however, have been in desperate need of a safe way home, and because of SAFE ride’s lackluster reputation, none of them even tried to call. Instead, each of them called a cab and paid the ridiculous amount of money it costs to get from one end of campus to the other. Students have lost trust in a system designed to keep them safe. What if one of my friends or I was in danger of getting mugged and called SAFE ride to avoid getting hurt? If I put my assailant on the phone, would SAFE ride come get me then? Maybe if I gave them my student ID number and had no overdue books at the library.
Understandably, restrictions are needed to prevent abuse of the system — like turning it into a free barhopping service — but it seems to have gotten out of hand.
Every time I call, the line is busy, so there still must be some believers out there, but they are most likely hearing the countless excuses about how they are not eligible for a free ride. When I have actually gotten through and spoken with someone, I am either too far away, too close, too early or too late. There must be some special code word you have to say for them to come get you.
SAFE ride has once again received budget cutbacks, like almost every other part of the university, but the safety of students is not something we can afford to cut back. And yet, it seems very few people will notice or even care that SAFE ride will be scaling back its services. Students have gotten used to the fact they will have to fend for themselves and shell out the money for a cab in order to get home safely.
The pressure to give free rides to students seems to be straining SAFE ride and is a possible reason why the service is not working to its full potential. Most people would not hesitate to pay a few dollars for a cab as long as it is not as much as taking a real cab.
In addition, at many universities students volunteer to be drivers of a university owned vehicle for a night instead of working in conjunction with a cab company, as SAFE Ride does.
The system needs a complete overhaul. The university is a relatively safe place, but assaults still happen and having a safe way for students to get from one place to another is vital. The ride does not even have to be free, just cheaper than a regular cab ride. Students need a service they can trust if they ever feel they are in trouble and right now, they do not have one.
The bottom line is that SAFE ride needs a makeover in order to win back the trust of students and to ensure their safety. Until then, I will just carry a can of mace in my bag and wear a whistle around my neck because SAFE ride will not come get me.
Joanna Salmen (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a junior majoring in journalism and Spanish.