Safe Ride driver Zabiuddin Ahmed provides home away from home for passengers


Kimberly Espinosa/Daily Senior Staffer

Zabiuddin “Zab” Ahmed drives an orange Nissan, where he stashes snacks, candy and water for passengers.

Jessica Ma, Assistant Campus Editor

While most cars are either black, white or gray, Safe Ride driver Zabiuddin “Zab” Ahmed is known by students for his bright orange Nissan — an easy find in the darkness of night. 

“People love the orange car very much,” Ahmed said. “It’s very easy to recognize.” 

Before arriving at Northwestern, Ahmed drove for Uber for almost seven years. After being referred to the program by a friend, he began working for Safe Ride at NU, where he has since struck up friendships with his passengers. 

Ahmed said he enjoys being a Safe Ride driver because of the service’s social environment. He loves to learn about students’ lives, he said. 

“I try to mingle with people,” Ahmed said. “I have a hobby of meeting different communities of people, talking and (learning) about their culture.”

Ahmed is from south India and grew up in several different countries, including the United Kingdom and Dubai. He also lived in Saudi Arabia, where he worked for an electric manufacturing cable company prior to moving to Chicago. 

Ahmed now spends his mornings operating two gas stations that he owns in Chicago’s South Side. Ahmed said managing his own business feels like a “180-degree” change from his work in Saudi Arabia. 

After working in the morning, Ahmed typically drives for Safe Ride from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m., depending on his availability and comfortability. SafeRide drivers can select the times of their shifts each night. 

Ahmed said he is “continuously working day and night.” He added he’s really tired but enjoys working. 

“I’m a workaholic, moving here and there,” Ahmed said. “I keep on moving. That’s the reason I work almost everyday here.” 

When SESP junior Freskida Sejdiu lived on campus her freshman and sophomore year, she said she frequently rode with Ahmed, since she often returned to her dorm late. 

“He always made sure to go into the parking lot (near 2335 Sheridan), so I wouldn’t have to walk, since it was late at night,” Sejdiu said. “He started becoming a regular. He was super kind.”

Ahmed said he encourages students to concentrate on their studies. Students need to see the value of education, because parents and guardians are investing in their futures, he said. 

The rides typically last two to five minutes, Ahmed said, but he often provides advice to riders, taking on a parental role in the process. 

“I’ll try to ask them, ‘Hey, how’s your studies are going?’” Ahmed said. “It’s not part of my job, but usually, I take it very personally.” 

While Ahmed is on the move in his Nissan, he keeps candies, snacks and water in the vehicle for his passengers. Whenever Ahmed’s wife makes biryani, he shares it with students, he said. 

First-year McCormick graduate student in engineering management Shiv Singh refers to Ahmed as her “Uncle.” Singh, who is also from India, said Ahmed reminds her a bit of home. Like her relatives, the Safe Ride driver always checks in on her. 

“It’s just about that caring factor,” Singh said. “It’s always nice to talk to someone elderly about your interviews, about your day.”

Ahmed said he has a “very big family” he cares deeply about. He has seven kids — six daughters and one son. 

From their rides together, Sejdiu added she’s learned about Ahmed’s family. His thoughtfulness reflects in the way he remembers details about her life, she said, as well how he discusses his children. 

“My undergraduate experience, my Safe Ride experience, was transformed by him,” Sejdiu said. “He’s a great addition to the Northwestern community.” 

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @JessicaMa2025

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