One driver per SafeRide car in cuts

Alexandra Finkel

When SafeRide driver Sara Fletcher picks up a passenger, she pulls up to the corner, double-checks to make sure the door is locked and waits nervously.

Before Winter Quarter, Fletcher shared her seven-hour shifts with another SafeRide driver to reduce the chances that she would fall asleep behind the wheel and make her less vulnerable to a possible assault.

Over Winter Break, however, Fletcher received a disconcerting e-mail: Northwestern had cut SafeRide’s budget by $45,000 for 2009 and halved the number of drivers per night.

“To stay within the budget, we are now operating our cars with one driver,” said Jerry Bauer, SafeRide coordinator. “The average last year was 1.4 drivers per car, so more than half the time drivers were driving alone anyway.”

Some drivers said the new policy has left them vulnerable to unsafe situations.

“I didn’t sign up to put my life in danger,” said Fletcher, a Medill sophomore. “When I started working in the fall, the contract said we would be driving with another person. I haven’t even told my mom yet because one of the contingencies of taking the job was that I would have a co-driver.”

One employee, who requested anonymity to protect her job, said all of the drivers are unhappy.

“A lot of people were thinking about quitting, but they told us at a time when finding another job would be impossible,” she said. “It used to be a great job, but I don’t know anyone who is happy working there now.”

Although there were several options to deal with the budget cut, Bauer said this was the most logical choice for SafeRide, which broke its record for most rides in one night on Saturday with 353 rides.

“One idea was to cut the number of cars per night,” he said. “But we wanted to maximize the number of rides because providing this service to the university is our primary goal.”

SafeRide currently employs about 30 students who drive six cars Sunday through Wednesday and eight cars Thursday through Saturday.

“Drivers always have a direct line to the dispatcher with the cell phone we provide them, and they should keep their doors locked unless they’re letting someone in or out,” Bauer said. “We also advise drivers to ask their passengers to show their WildCARDs before getting in.”

The current system will be in place through Spring Quarter and most likely for the 2009-10 school year, Bauer said.

“With the current economic situation the way it is right now, there won’t be any increases in university spending until at least the next fiscal year,” he said.

Still, Fletcher believes that something should be done to guarantee the safety of the drivers.

“Besides NU police, we are the number one safety measure on campus … It doesn’t make any sense to sacrifice the safety of the students performing the service for the service itself.”

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