SafeRide extends hours, will hire employees

Lilia Hargis

With 10 vehicles and longer hours of operation, SafeRide could soon provide 400 rides per night, SafeRide Coordinator Paul David Shrader said. This is about 50 more than was possible in the beginning of the quarter.

As a result of a budget increase, SafeRide now operates from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. and is currently in the process of hiring new drivers and adding new vehicles to its service, he said.

Vice President for Student Affairs William Banis and Vice President for Business and Finance Eugene Sunshine made the decision to increase the budget for SafeRide, Shrader said.

Banis sent an e-mail to the student body on Oct. 23 announcing SafeRide’s extended hours in response to the elevated crime level in Evanston. Banis did not answer an e-mail and could not be reached by phone at the end of last week.

While the recent change was a quick one, there has been previous interest in expanding SafeRide, Shrader said.

But it was not a University budget priority, and last winter the 2009 SafeRide budget was cut by $45,000, The Daily reported in January.

In addition to increases in hiring and hours of operation, SafeRide will likely be buying a new Toyota Prius soon and has added an NU motor pool van to its fleet, Shrader said. This would mean SafeRide can consistently have 10 cars operating on its busiest nights.

Though Shrader could not say for certain the SafeRide expansion was a direct response to the recent robberies of NU students, he said these incidents have increased the number of students who use the SafeRide service.

“I have been driving to help cover on (short-staffed) days, and people have mentioned these incidents multiple times as their reason for taking SafeRide,” Shrader said.

SafeRide dispatcher Lucy Hunt said she has also noticed a significant increase in the number of calls she receives on a nightly basis since the robberies occurred. She added that she is glad students are making use of SafeRide to stay safe, but some students still abuse the service.

“I feel bad when I have to give a ride to a group of three guys who are using it as a convenience rather than someone walking alone,” she said.

While SafeRide is slightly “short-staffed” at present, 13 new drivers have already been hired this year and Shrader said he is looking to hire six to eight more in the near future.

These new hires will eventually help expand SafeRide’s capacity, but the post-hire training process is extensive. Communication senior Melissa Roer was hired at the end of last year as a SafeRide driver. She said in addition to passing a driving test, new SafeRide employees must work three shifts with another driver in the car before their first solo shift.

This year, Shrader has also received approval to accept applications from recent NU alumni in addition to current students.

“A lot of (alumni) have expressed interest, and I have gotten one or two applications,” he said. “For people who have recently graduated, it is a great way to supplement their income.”

The extended SafeRide hours are a change for current employees, since the old shifts were seven hours in the winter and six hours during Daylight Savings time.

Hunt, a Weinberg senior, said drivers have worked hard to adjust to this change.

“We have never had a shift this long, so we have made longer breaks for drivers, and now people split shifts more often,” Hunt said. SafeRide drivers work from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. or 11 p.m. to 3 a.m., she added.

Drivers understand the need for the extended shift, Roer said.

“Obviously (eight hours) is a long shift for any job, but we are hired to keep people safe and the extended shift does help improve safety,” she said.

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