Drivers for SafeRide break in eco-friendly fleet of hybrid cars

Sam Kirkland

SafeRide has new cars this year, and they’re green – in an environmentally friendly sense, that is.

The student safety service purchased a fleet of five white Toyota Priuses last spring, replacing the program’s old Chevrolet Cavaliers.

The idea was to upgrade SafeRide in a way that would increase fuel efficiency, according to SafeRide coordinator Jerry Bauer.

Bauer said the hybrid electric vehicles, which use electric motors in addition to gasoline engines, already have cut the program’s gas expenses.

According to Environmental Protection Agency estimates, the 2007 Prius averages 46 miles per gallon, making it the top-rated overall vehicle in terms of fuel efficiency.

The new cars, which will operate in a nine-square-mile portion of Evanston, are equipped with large orange lights to increase visibility, Bauer said.

Federico Rodriguez, a SafeRide driver and dispatcher, said the cars are fun to drive and produce very low emissions, leaving a smaller carbon footprint than the previous vehicles.

The Weinberg junior, who has driven for SafeRide since Spring Quarter of last year, said the cars are used six hours a day, seven days a week. This meant that last year, drivers would fill their tanks nearly every day.

Since switching to hybrid vehicles, drivers now only have to fill up once or twice per week.

“There’s a huge difference,” Rodriguez said. “I had the chance to be one of the first ones to drive the Priuses when they came in.”

McCormick freshman McCall Vollum said she appreciates SafeRide’s efforts to be more environmentally conscious. She said she has not used the service yet.

“I usually like to walk with big groups of people,” Vollum said. “I haven’t really felt unsafe.”

Although she has never used SafeRide, Vollum said she has SafeRide’s number programmed into her cell phone in case she needs it later in the year.

Katie Belleville, a Weinberg sophomore, said she supports SafeRide’s decision to use hybrid vehicles; however, she said she had to deal with a few long waits last year.

“I guess that’s to be expected,” Belleville said. “People utilize it when they don’t need to.”

According to SafeRide’s Web site, last year’s average wait time for a ride was just under 27.5 minutes, and waits tended to be longer Thursday through Saturday nights between 10:30 p.m. and 12:30 a.m.

To combat the longer wait times, SafeRide limited the number of passengers per car to three last year. Also, students must give their NetIDs to the operator when reserving rides to ensure accountability.

Last year, SafeRide provided 45,654 free nighttime rides to 66,149 passengers. The number of rides has increased three-fold since 2001.

SafeRide operates every day from 9 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. When the clocks fall back an hour for daylight-saving time in November, service will begin at 8 p.m.

Bauer said calls for rides typically increase later in the year with colder temperatures and greater awareness about the service among students.

Reach Sam Kirkland at [email protected]