Photo Illustration by Corrie Mitchell/The Captain's Log

Student Assembly to test drive SafeRides program this semester

Photo Illustration by Corrie Mitchell/The Captain's Log

Christopher Newport University students may find it easier and safer to have a night on the town.

Student assembly members have hashed out an ambitious plan to provide CNU students a free shuttle service to and from campus in an effort to curb drunk driving.

Jett Johnson, Student Assembly President, said that as of now, if the tentative plan were enacted, two vans would be running on Friday and Saturday nights from 8 p.m. until 3 a.m. One van would run a regular route within the vicinity of campus, while the other would respond to requests made by calling the program’s headquarters.

In the past, the Student Assembly has attempted to implement similar plans, all of which were based on JMU’s SafeRides program, which has become a model for other student-lead initiatives in the state, but enthusiasm had always dissipated.

“There is just a lot of troubleshooting, paperwork and grunt work in putting it together,” Johnson said.

However, Johnson is confident that this is the year the initiative will finally be realized.

“I am overly optimistic about when the program will start,” said Johnson, “possibly right after spring break, but it matters when I get the state paperwork back.”

In order for the group to rent the vans from Enterprise, they first need a tax identification number after being recognized as a non-profit organization by the state. It appears to be only a waiting game now–after the group receives their number, Johnson plans to immediately put the plan into effect.

“Maybe it will start the last few weeks of school as a preliminary run,” Johnson said. “Right now I have no idea when the state paperwork is going to come back to us. It could take a few weeks or a few months.”
Student responses to the possibility of this type of program have been largely positive.

“I would totally take advantage,” senior Kelsey Rigby said. “I feel like people do make someone the DD [Designated Driver], but then they say, ‘Oh, I’ll just have one beer.’ This is something that can be prevented, plus it would save me like 20 bucks on a cab.”

Such a program may have created friction with the administration in the past, which may have led to the earlier initiatives’ failures, but now administrators are giving the program a mild nod of approval.
“I brought it up in a meeting with Paul Trible,” Johnson said, “and he said, ‘Make it work.’”

Johnson and the Student Assembly have, over the past months, been communicating closely with Kevin Hughes, Dean of Students, wary of creating any conflict with the administration’s alcohol policy.

“Jett and the Student Assembly have worked very hard to make a student-led initiative that meets the needs of students appropriately,” Hughes said. “I have had multiple conversations with Jett about the [CNU] SafeRides program and we will support the initiatives and serve as a resource. We think this can happen.”

Despite the administration’s vocal support, there is no indication that there will be any changes to the administration’s current alcohol policy to compliment a CNU SafeRides program, or any exceptions made regarding what method students take to return to campus.

“I do think there will be problems with this program in the future because of the alcohol policy,” Johnson admitted. “We’re a dry campus.”

“I mean, Radford is technically a dry campus, too,” freshman Melanie Burks said. “It doesn’t have any real meaning behind it. Students are going to do what they are going to do.”

As a precaution, a disclaimer will be read before students disembark the van stating that the program will not be responsible for any of the students’ behaviors after stepping foot on campus—serving as a warning for students to avoid doing anything that may get them in trouble.

There are many who fear that if they do take advantage, the campus police will target them.

“If the police are going to be waiting to catch people,” Burks said, “I wouldn’t ride.”

“When a student draws attention to themselves, they are going to be confronted,” Hughes sad. “Now, are we going to be waiting there for people to get off the van? No. There is nothing that needs to be addressed if a student is simply walking back to their building.”

The program will be staffed totally by student volunteers, Johnson explained. Drivers would be students over the age of 21 with a valid driver’s license, who will be aided by passengers. The passengers who will be trained in emergency and conflict management would be responsible for calling an ambulance or the police in case of an emergency, giving the driver directions and recording the names of riders.

“I have zero concerns about recruiting volunteers,” Johnson said. “We have a lot of student organizations we can draw from—volunteer groups and Greek organizations.”

As for who will clean up the vans in the event that a student might become ill, there will also be a night manager on duty responsible for receiving calls, orchestrating the vans’ routes and cleaning up any messes.

Students seeking a ride need only their student ID, and they are allowed to have other non-CNU students in their party. Riders may go wherever they choose, as long as it is within a certain, not yet specified, distance from campus. However, the service is mainly intended to give students a safe ride to and from campus.

The assisting passenger will record the names of individuals only as a safety precaution. The information will not be shared with any school office or organization. The information is to be used only in the event of an emergency or when an individual’s behavior becomes violent or inappropriate, so as to deny them service in the future.

“My biggest concern is the safety of the volunteers and then a very close second is the safety of the CNU students,” Johnson said.

Funding for the initiative this semester will come from the Student Assembly’s remaining budget.

“We have two thirds spent, and whatever we have left over in the account we will see where that money was going and see what we can do without,” said Johnson, who plans on making do with less office supplies and advertising for the Student Assembly.

“We had planned on lobbying in Richmond, but we probably will not do that this year,” Johnson said.

At the beginning of next year, the Front End Budgeting committee made up of Student Assembly members will assess the success of the program and decide on whether to approve the funding for CNU SafeRides for the entire 2012-2013 academic year.