Campus ride services have expanded, but is it enough?

Originally Posted on Emerald Media via UWIRE

When University of Oregon junior Adrian Sampedro Cruz started his shift for Safe Ride one evening last fall, he thought it would be another typical Thursday night. Seven nights a week, Safe Ride employees drive UO students, faculty and staff across campus and throughout the greater Eugene area to help prevent assault. Cleaning up an overly intoxicated student’s vomit in the van is usually the worst situation he has to deal with during a shift. But Sampedro Cruz’s night wasn’t typical.

He was driving back toward campus on the Ferry Street Bridge near Whole Foods when he saw that a motorcyclist had crashed. He got out of the vehicle to investigate and realized that the rider had been thrown from the motorcycle and was lying unconscious in the grass on the side of the road. Sampedro Cruz called 911. A minute later another car drove up. The driver was a doctor.

“He checked the guy out and was like, ‘He has no pulse,’” Sampedro Cruz said. A Eugene Police Department tweet from that night confirmed that the incident was fatal.

The Office of the Dean of Students reached out to Sampedro Cruz following that night and UOPD gave him the phone numbers of counseling resources. He says his co-workers at Safe Ride were supportive. They offered to let him take time off, but he continued to work for Safe Ride.

“In situations like that, I am better off keeping myself busy,” he said.

Sampedro Cruz says the tragic events of that night have only made him more passionate about working to ensure public safety with Safe Ride. Having a dedicated, efficient workforce of employees, like Sampedro Cruz, is essential for campus ride services — ridership data shows that the demand for rides is far greater than what employees can provide.

University of Oregon junior Adrian Sampedro Cruz says he works for Safe Ride because the service helps keep students and staff out of harm’s way. (Adam Eberhardt/Daily Emerald)

Employees and volunteers with Safe Ride and UO’s two other ride services — Designated Driver Shuttle and Campus Shuttle — don’t see their jobs as a sacrifice of their weekend nights. They feel as though they provide a vital public service.

DDS offers rides on a first-come, first-serve basis to help prevent drunk driving. The Center for Disease Control reports that 29 people in the US die daily in DUI incidents.

Campus Shuttle, which was introduced last January, operates on three bus-like routes, offering students another alternative to walking home alone at night.

But these ride services are operating at full capacity. Every year they are forced to turn away thousands of ride requests. Many ride service employees worry about the safety of the people they turn away late at night.

In fiscal year 2017, Safe Ride gave 22,086 rides, but was forced to turn away 7,515 ride requests — that’s 25 percent of their total ride requests. Since the beginning of fiscal year 2018, which began last July, Safe Ride has already turned away 9,781 ride requests.

DDS is facing a similar issue. It gave 11,834 rides in 2017, but only recently started collecting turnaway data. DDS has turned away 980 rides so far this year.

In response to the turnaway issue, UOPD and the Division of Student Life used emergency funds to create the UO Campus Shuttle with four vans in January 2018. DDS co-director Josh Carpenter says, “The UO Campus Shuttle has made both ours and Safe Ride’s lives significantly easier,” despite both services having to turn away more people this year than any year prior.

But according to UOPD spokesman Kelly McIver, funding for the Campus Shuttle is only budgeted until the end of this year.

“It’s something that was essentially one-time, scraped-together funding,” McIver said. “It’s nothing that has been programmed into regular, recurring funding year to year, so we really have no idea yet what’s going to happen with that for next year and beyond.”

UOPD Safe Rides program manager Ashley McCrea says that the rapid growth in demand for campus ride services is due in part to growing awareness of the programs. A string of eight robberies that occurred near campus in early 2018 contributed to the demand for rides, according to McCrea.

First-year UO student Stephanie Schofield started volunteering for Safe Ride in the middle of winter term when the robberies were still happening. She wanted to give back to a service that she and her sorority sisters used frequently. During the string of robberies, she says she was impressed that Safe Ride drivers went out of their way to check on people walking on campus alone.

“It was hectic,” Schofield said. “People would get in the car and be really worried, but thankful we were there. We knew that if we saw someone alone on the side of the street, we needed to roll down our window and ask them if they needed a ride. We do that already if we’re not driving someone else, but it seemed more urgent at the time.”

Schofield said that concern for students outweighs any bitterness Safe Ride employees might have about working weekend shifts when their friends are out partying. It’s worth it to them to help make sure students get home safely.

“During the robberies we knew that it was important to just make riders feel comfortable and safe,” Schofield said.

DDS co-director Carpenter says he worries about what happens to students when he has to turn them away for a ride.

“A lot of the people we drive are intoxicated,” Carpenter said. “When we turn people down, I just hope they know it’s not worth it to drive themselves instead. I wonder how many people find another ride or call a taxi. We always notify people of other options.”

Carpenter says he knows many people who have gotten DUIs. Getting a DUI is the last thing someone should worry about if they choose to drive drunk, according to Carpenter. But he has witnessed the negative effect getting a DUI has on someone’s life. He says that’s what drives his commitment to working for DDS.

Sampedro Cruz, the Safe Ride driver who discovered the motorcycle crash, also wonders what people do when Safe Ride turns them away for a ride. He says he hopes they don’t end up walking.

“Some days when we have so many turnaways, I just see it as evidence that we need to continue growing,” Sampedro Cruz says. “Not just Safe Ride, but all the ride services.”

Safe Ride and DDS have expanded in the last year, due in part to a recent change in their ASUO organization status. But this year’s ridership data show that the growth of campus ride services hasn’t solved the turnaway problem.

Prior to last summer, Safe Ride and DDS were student-run ASUO programs. Now they are ASUO-affiliated university departments with faculty oversight from UOPD. Ashley McCrea was hired by UOPD as the manager of the ride services. She says Safe Ride and DDS were outgrowing the ASUO-program model and needed to become ASUO-affiliated university departments with larger budgets.

When they were ASUO programs, the 2016-17 budgets of Safe Ride and DDS were $158,253 and $122,990, respectively. Now that they are departments, their combined budget for 2017-18 is $454,970. That $173,727 increase allowed Safe Ride and DDS to add another van to each of their fleets this year.

Safe Ride also increased its paid staff from 37 to 63 while DDS increased its paid staff from 30 to 37. Safe Ride has 49 volunteers and DDS has 20.

Since UOPD hired McCrea last summer, she has been collecting ridership data to identify how the services could improve.

“During the first five or six months when we were looking at the data, we realized we have an issue,” McCrea said. “We weren’t serving our students.”

McIver says that UOPD is committed to doing anything it can to help ensure that students get home safely. He will continue to assess how UOPD can increase safety on campus using McCrea’s analyses of ridership data.

In April, the Eugene City Council lifted its ban on rideshare companies. McIver says UOPD will closely monitor how the reemergence of rideshare services like Uber and Lyft in Eugene will affect ridership numbers for campus ride services.

Sampedro Cruz hopes the future ASUO and UOPD budgets for all three ride services expand. He says he’ll continue working for Safe Ride as much as he can. He acknowledges that if the services don’t expand, it will be increasingly difficult to make sure people get home safely.

“I get asked a lot why I work so much,” Sampedro Cruz said. “And I always say it’s because I know that if I can just prevent one person from being harmed then it’s all worth it.”

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