Switch from Safe Ride to Via leaves frustrated employees searching for new opportunities


Daily file photo by Sherry Li

Safe Ride vehicles. Safe Ride is set to be replaced by the ride share service Via this upcoming academic year, though the deal is not yet finalized.

Cameron Cook, Web Editor

Drivers and dispatchers at Safe Ride, Northwestern’s free ride sharing service, are furious with University administration after finding out their positions will no longer exist this coming fall.

Safe Ride, which the University announced Monday will be replaced by the rideshare service Via, employed almost 30 students. Although everyone who worked for Safe Ride is being guaranteed a position in the Division of Student Affairs if they want one, some employees still consider the move ill-conceived.

Outsourcing the service puts the Safe Ride employees — most of whom are low-income and women of color — in a financially precarious situation, said Weinberg senior Emma Latz.

“Most of us who work at Safe Ride have a second job and some of us even have a third job,” Latz said. “We needed those hours, and it’s one of the few jobs I’ve found where you get consistent hours and get more than eight hours a week.”

Latz was already considering picking up a third job to help pay for extra expenses on top of rent and tuition, but said she had always considered Safe Ride her “constant.”

Safe Ride offered unconventional hours — shifts started at 7 p.m. and ended at 3 a.m. and were available every night of the week during the school year. The hours hindered Safe Ride’s ability to recruit and retain new drivers, said Jim Roberts, executive director for division services, but for some employees, the night shift was the draw.

For Latz, the night shift meant she could work another job during the day.

“We were more than happy to work those hours,” she said, “We were grateful for those hours.”

Still, the decrease in the quality of service was severe enough to consider outsourcing — Roberts said he heard student complaints about long wait times frequently, which he attributed to the fact that Safe Ride could often only find two or three drivers to cover each night. Although conversations about eventually replacing Safe Ride began a few years ago, efforts to actually find a ride-sharing service began this past spring.

Employees were only told of the outsourcing Monday, but rumors had been circulating for a few years that the University wanted to hire non-student drivers and dispatchers, said Weinberg senior and Safe Ride employee Amy Szkorla.

“I think it’s abundantly clear that the University has had this planned for quite some time and only now, a month before school begins, decided to relay the information to the people whom it affects most,” Szkorla said.

In the wake of the news, employees are scrambling to line up other jobs before school starts. The University should have notified the employees when talks to replace Safe Ride began, Latz said, because they needed that time to find other jobs.

Though former Safe Ride employees are being guaranteed positions in other Student Affairs jobs, she added, those jobs won’t have the schedule or the number of hours Safe Ride provided.

Weinberg senior Laura Carther works six hours a week at another on-campus job, but said that isn’t enough — they’ll have to find another part-time job, and the options for working on campus are often limited by the confines of the business day and work week.

“It’s just really hard to find something that fits the schedule of a college student,” Carther said. “Offering other jobs on campus is completely inadequate because none of them have the same earning opportunity.”

Safe Ride jobs were also available to non-work study-eligible students, something that allowed low-income drivers to have both a work study job and a job at Safe Ride. Bernard Foster, the former Safe Ride manager, would often let students continue to work at Safe Ride even when they met their work study allotment, Latz added.

Another potential side effect of switching from Safe Ride is that students would feel unsafe calling a Via. Some on social media have drawn attention to the differences between being picked up by a classmate and by a stranger. Weinberg junior Naomi Bañuelos-Lozano said Safe Ride was something she could “count on,” despite its faults.

“(Safe Ride) drivers are often my friends or classmates, and if I didn’t know them I at least knew we were both students just trying to get by,” she said. “Safe Ride is for the most vulnerable people who wouldn’t be able to get home otherwise, so the thought of outsourcing Safe Ride to a ride-sharing app is scary to me.”

Banuelos-Lozano’s parents were initially hesitant about her leaving her dorm at night when she first came to Northwestern, she said, but they felt more comfortable knowing she could go out at night and come back safely.

Latz said that aspect of the service — a fleet of cars driven by fellow students who know the campus and care about their classmates — is what helped make Safe Ride truly safe.

“We were really genuinely a community,” Latz said. “Administration is forgetting that piece of it being a student-run service. Because the Safe Ride community is so close, it helps keep the general community safe.”

The Via drivers will be held to similar standards, and the routes and hours will be the same as they were for Safe Ride — the University would be spending about the same amount of money for more consistent service, Roberts told The Daily, because Via can guarantee between five and eight drivers each night.

Still, Latz said, that doesn’t make it “worth it” to eliminate over 20 student positions and force the ex-employees to potentially lose the wage increases they earned at Safe Ride. The guaranteed Student Affairs positions — which Roberts pointed out mean the students weren’t technically laid off — won’t be accessible to everyone, and the burden of finding ways to make ends meet lies on the students.

“We’re out looking for new jobs,” she said. “We were fired.”

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