Safe Ride has transformed student culture at Ole Miss

Published 9:28 am Monday, September 18, 2017

Thanks so much for your story today about Safe Ride. I actually started this in 1999 when my daughter was a freshman because it was relevant,  and  I saw a need for a safe, free ride from the campus to the Square.

It was called Rebel Ride for many years until we changed it to Safe Ride about five years ago. We had good years, and we had years in which we limped along; but it’s actually been in service most of that time. It’s a long story, but it’s been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. We have had a strong Students for a Safe Ride student organization off and on for about 15 years. (Rebel Ride often carried 50,000 students during the Fall semester.) Today’s organization works closely with the Students Against Sexual Assault, the Wellness Center, and other student organizations to promote safety and not drinking and driving. They’ve had fundraisers; they’ve had banners for students to sign promising not to drink and drive, etc.

About five years ago, the University funding for Safe Ride was being reduced over a three-year period, which would have left our student group with trying raising $75,000 in funds run by a private contractor to keep it running, an impossible feat. However, two years ago, Pat Patterson approached VC Brandi Hephner-LaBanc about keeping Safe Ride running by using OUT buses.

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Mayor Patterson and VC Hephner-LaBanc understood then a growing need because of traffic and parking on the Square, along with safety for our students. The University agreed, and under the leadership of Mike Harris and Ron Biggs, a route and a schedule for Safe Ride were created that provided two OUT buses, which followed the schedule that you stated in your article. Mike and the City have since been able to secure grant money for much of the entire OUT system, which has a huge ridership from all over Oxford and the campus now.

Students for a Safe Ride has worked hard over the past few years and has gradually raised several thousand dollars and are an active student organization. The current Safe Ride motto is Fins Up, Keys Down!

Last week, Julia Grant, who is on the ASB transportation committee, approached me about increasing stops on the route. The students were seeing a need to include a broader route that made the bus service accessible to more students, and she wanted to submit a resolution on which the ASB could vote.  I talked to Mike Harris after this meeting to see what was possible, and he asked me to create a plan of what the students thought they needed. Julia and I then met with our Safe Ride President, Lauren Greif, about this on Monday and put a schedule and a route plan together for this academic year. We went for the whole tamale, which was additional buses (from 2 to 4) starting with Vandy game and for the rest of the Fall semester. We also added a third bus for Spring semester. We added seven stop instead of four.

Originally, the buses stopped at Sorority Row, Crosby, Pittman/Burns/Minor, and the Paris-Yates Chapel. Now, the stops will cover the entire campus and be more accessible and NEAR where students live:  Residential Colleges, Sorority Row, Crosby,  Pittman/Burns/Minor, KA House area, Beta/Sigma Chi Houses area, Sigma Nu/Kappa Sig houses area, Rebel Drive at ChiO/Pi Phi/Stockard/Martin. Because we will have four buses, pick up and drop off should be a short wait, a factor that was important to Mike Harris, Ron Biggs, and the students. Students for a Safe Ride will use some of their funds to partnership with UM and the City to cover the costs.

Mike Harris presented this to the transportation committee last night, and it was approved unanimously. Julia Grant will present the resolution to the Senate committee next week, and the ASB will vote on it October 10. This service directly touches our students in a positive way. When we started the whole thing, I watched the service literally change cultural behavior.  Students with very nice cars were choosing and have been choosing to get on a funky bus or a trolley and ride the bus instead of drive their cars. It became a rite of passage for many freshmen over the years.  Then, they began using the OUT buses regularly when that change was made.  Now, the culture has changed in unpredictable ways from 15 years ago: more students, more cars, traffic, parking, etc., plus what has occurred the past few weekends with safety and security for students.  Along with the new Safe Site by OPD and these new routes and additional buses, we give our students good choices. Safe Ride wants to be sure that we work closely with OPD and Safe Site to promote and guide students to make safe choices. Some of them won’t learn, but many of them will learn to be safer if they have our support through these services. I want to be sure that the students involved get some credit; their voices are being heard and that creates a big impact for them.

This is an excellent example of our community coming together to respond to an important issue.

Linda Spargo, Ph.D.

Coordinator, Special Projects & Academic Advisor, University of Mississippi