By Alaina Perdon
Elm Staff Writer
The Safe Ride program at Washington College gives students free access to transportation throughout the immediate Chestertown area. According to the program’s mission statement on the College website, Safe Ride “provides students with a safe alternative way to get back to campus without having to walk or drive themselves.”
Safe Ride is inarguably an essential service for students, particularly since the weekend availability helps prevent harms that may befall party-goers walking across town at night or getting behind the wheel themselves.
That said, the program functions beyond shuttling inebriated students to and from parties; Safe Ride, according to the website, fosters a better relationship between the College and the town as it “protects Washington College students from potential physical or verbal harassment from non-students” while also reducing instances of students trespassing on private property while traversing the town.
The Safe Ride system is not without flaws. Prior to the spring 2020 campus closure, students could arrange a Safe Ride by calling the advertised number and requesting pick-up at their location. The call system has proven to be unreliable, largely in part because of the possibility for human error. Phones may die and signals may drop.
Furthermore, we have all received a plethora of WAC Alerts stating the Safe Ride phone lines are down on a Friday night. Pre-pandemic, friends and I have stood waiting on the corner of Queen Street multiple times listening to the Safe Ride line continuously ring, only to accept defeat and walk back to campus.
In these situations, there is seemingly no point to having the Safe Ride program in place. Unable to access the service, we are forced to seek alternative routes of our own.
According to Senior Class President Vincent Pacheco, this call system has been replaced by a bus loop system, in which the Safe Ride vans follow a given route to pick up passengers at designated stops. This transition was announced by former Safe Ride executive director Olivia Stepanian at a student faculty meeting in February 2020.
A bus loop system is more reliable, as the vans will have to stop at each of the predetermined locations every night. There would be no risk of students left stranded because their call did not go through; the vans would arrive at pickup points without having to be hailed.
The bus loop system is still in its beginning stages. According to Pacheco, the shuttle only operates on campus without connecting to town. While this is logical given pandemic restrictions, the system must adapt as we return to normal functioning in the coming semesters. Containing the route to campus defeats the purpose of the program, as students living off-campus or needing access to other areas of town will once again be left without adequate transportation.
However, there are flaws to an off-campus bus loop system as well.
Students may have to wait longer for rides as the vans would presumably have to complete their entire loop before picking up new passengers. With three shuttles in their fleet and contracts underway to acquire more, this issue can be overcome through proper scheduling on the part of the Safe Ride staff, staggering departure times or multiple variations of the route at once.
Furthermore, students could no longer request pickups at specific locations, instead, they would have to wait at designated stops. Again, this issue can be overcome so long as the Safe Ride staff communicates with the rest of the student body to determine an adequate amount of stops and suitable locations based on student activity.
But, according to Pacheco, these changes are being implemented under scant leadership, with minimal organization. The Safe Ride student executive board is responsible for hiring the next set of student leaders at the end of each academic year. Pacheco says the 2019-2020 executive board did not hire any successors, thus, there was no executive board at the beginning of this academic year.
“I reached out to Candace [Wannamaker] in July or August and she said she had no dealing with the new [executive] board hirings. So, it went unsettled for the whole year,” Pacheco said. “Then come March , we get told [by] the SGA that these changes are going into effect without the existence of an exec board to have a voice or actual input on the implementation of the plan.”
Pacheco theorized the hiring process was halted in part due to lack of funding, though there is no direct evidence to support this claim.
A successful transition to the new bus loop system incorporating off-campus stops will require the input of the student body to determine locations and schedules that will allow for the most access. This cannot be done without a full, reliable leadership team, which Safe Ride presently lacks. The program needs internal organization, as well as support from organizations like the Student Government Association to ensure the inarguably essential program’s longevity.
Athletics Director Thad Moore and SGA Speaker of the Senate Josh Gastineau were identified as prominent figures in the system transition and were contacted for comment on the matter on April 13. As of April 18, neither party has responded.
Featured Photo caption: Safe Ride is in talks to transition from call to bus loop system. Photo by Mark Cooley.