The secrets of Safe Ride

David Allen runs a computer business and has two sons at Case Western Reserve University. He spends his nights working as a Safe Ride driver, a position which has given him a lot of exposure to the school and its students.

“I really like the intellect of the people here,” said Allen. “I learn so much from the thoughtful questions that passengers ask.”

Mike Goliat, Director of Transportation, Facility Security and Access, describes his Safe Ride program as a “great service to have at a university.”

Safe Ride serves CWRU, The Cleveland Institute of Music, The Cleveland Institute of Art, the Case School of Dental Medicine and the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. It is open to students and faculty alike.

Most drivers are security officers from a corporate company who have different work during the day. Being a Safe Ride driver allows them to work night hours while saving their days for work at their regular jobs.

Currently there are three Safe Ride vehicles with one more during colder weather. There has been no discussion of adding a fifth vehicle despite nearly constant complaining from students that the system takes too long.

Safe Ride driver Randy Davis said the biggest problem is that students are not ready when they call dispatch. 10-15 percent of Safe Rides are no-shows because students decide to walk without telling dispatch. When one student does this, the driver has driven all the way there, thus delaying the passengers riding at that time as well as students who still need to be picked up.

In addition Safe Ride drivers are not told at what time a student requested a ride. A preconceived notion is that drivers pick up students in order of requests received. However this is in fact not true. The drivers have no idea how long a student has been waiting for a ride.

“It’s actually not that easy,” said Allen. “As a driver it is up to me to figure out the best possible way to go to pick up as many students in the shortest amount of time. The better you know the area, the better you do.”

Each vehicle is equipped with a tablet, which uses an app called RideCell to assign pick-ups to the drivers working that night. A chart displays the pick up location, the drop off location, the number of passengers and the name of the person who requested the ride. Once the driver arrives at the location and the student is notified of the driver’s arrival, a three-minute timer begins. If the three-minute timer runs out, and the student has not shown up, drivers are instructed to move on to the next request. Often the student will come out after the driver has left and call for another Safe Ride, which then gets piled onto someone else’s pick-up list.

Each night somewhere between 115-145 Safe Ride requests are made.

Something else that Safe Ride drivers have to deal with—that is frequently forgotten—is students under the influence of alcohol. These students will make strange comments, harass drivers or other passengers or even vomit in the car. Every six months, someone vomits in a Safe Ride vehicle. When this happens, CWRU police is immediately called. First they verify that the passenger is over the age of 21 for legal alcohol consumption and then the passenger is taken to the hospital. Next a biohazard officer is called to thoroughly deep-clean the car, thus putting the vehicle out of service.

Recent updates to the Safe Ride mobile app include a feedback system for students to rate their experience with a driver, receiving a text and phone call upon arrival of the vehicle and a ride-tracker system. However there are still issues.

While the Safe Ride drivers do not get much say in their work, they do have their opinions.

“I think we should keep the added fourth driver,” said Allen. “We only use it in cold weather but honestly it just makes things a lot better. We can work nonstop for four to five hours in continuous routes rather than rushing 50 plus rides each night.”

I shadowed Allen for a Friday night. Most passengers were quiet and did not speak much other than a hello in the beginning and a thank you at the end. One group of medical students stumbled into the car groggy-eyed and drunk. They made inappropriate comments and waved their hands in the air obstructing the view of the driver. After they were dropped off, the one sober member of the group asked the driver if he accepts tip, as she wanted to thank him for being so patient with the others. Allen politely refused and wished them a good night.