SafeRides weed out abuse

By Mark Rivera

Within the five-day period from Sept. 21 to Sept. 25, at least 20 cases of theft, one robbery, one assault and six burglaries were reported in the Champaign-Urbana area.

On campus, getting home safe is a must.

The Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District’s service, SafeRides, is aimed at keeping people safe by providing an alternative to a long walk home alone at night.

The MTD provides an on-call bus service from dusk until 6:15 a.m.

“The idea behind SafeRides is to provide exactly what the name implies,” said Karl Gnadt, director of market development for MTD, “A safe alternative.”

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According to the MTD Web site, SafeRides are to be used when no other means of safe transportation are available to get home.

Rides are only available only within set boundaries, State Street to the west and Vine Street to the east; University Avenue and Church Street border the north and Windsor Road the south.

SafeRides “empirically make sense,” Gnadt said.

Still, the program is one that can easily be abused.

Nate Park, officer for the University Police Department, mentioned the possibility of SafeRides becoming a “drunk bus.”

Tim Martens, sophomore in LAS, said he agreed.

“Obviously, people could take advantage of it if they’re drunk and don’t want to walk home,” Martens said.

Gnadt said the SafeRides office works to weed out those taking advantage of the system.

“Most programs see some abuse,” he said. “We try to filter those out.”

Gnadt said the SafeRides’ dispatch office asks a series of questions to determine if a call is valid, such as the number of people in the group requesting a ride, what the circumstances are and the group’s intended destination.

If there are more than three people in the group or the destination is a bar, the SafeRides shuttle will not be sent.

In fact, there are a number of stipulations to receiving a ride, such as whether a person’s pick-up and drop-off point are on the 22 Illini bus route.

If they are, the Safe Ride bus will not be sent.

Greg Platt, sophomore in LAS, said he thought that the SafeRides system would be better if it could pick people up directly from bars in order to save them from the possibility of an unsafe walk to a pick-up destination.

Martens said he thought SafeRides was a great idea, one that can really make the campus feel safer.

However, if individuals cannot meet the requirements to qualify for a SafeRides safe ride, there are alternatives to getting home safe.

The Safe Walks program, sponsored by the University Police Department, uses a team of almost 30 student patrol officers to help walk anyone who feels unsafe, or unable to be aware of their surroundings, home.

“It’s a simple, quick, free walk,” Park said.

If a student calls asking for a walk, student patrol officers can meet him, responding in about five minutes.

But Park expressed his concern that students would rather walk home alone than call the police intoxicated.

“To be honest, we wished more people called when intoxicated,” Park said. “We have no problem with that. Student patrollers don’t write tickets.”

Regardless, Park said he thought both Safe Walks and SafeRides were important options for students to have.

“I don’t put one over the other,” he said. “The point is to get home safe.”