WSGA committee searching for a ‘Safe’ solution

Caleb Wasson

Think before you drink. Designate a driver.

These two well-known advertising slogans have taken on a profound meaning for Washburn University students this school year. Safe Ride, a university program established as a safe alternative to drunk driving, has not been in operation since August when the previous contract with Capitol City Taxi expired.

“We couldn’t reach a contract with the cab company,” said Kate McCown, Washburn Student Government Association president. “Safe Ride was called into question during the previous WSGA administration and nothing was done about it.”

In the old Safe Ride system, students were required to call the cab company, inform the dispatcher that they were using the Safe Ride program and provide their WIN number to the cab driver. WSGA would then be billed for the service and the money would come out of the student activity fund. This system also allowed WSGA to monitor the use of Safe Ride. According to McCown, this system was far from perfect, which resulted in numerous problems.

Washburn students weren’t being correctly served by Safe Ride, said McCown. Many students who used the service were law students-students who are not served by WSGA and do not pay the $31 student activity fee.

“Law students would use it and we would get stuck with the bill. They have their own government that provides services for them. The funding is totally separate,” said McCown.

Under the previous Safe Ride contract, Washburn would get charged for no-shows-students who call a cab and leave before it shows up. Students were also using their iCards to allow non-students to take advantage of the program. Another problem, McCown said, was that the cab company was not following the contract it had agreed to. “Safe Ride customers were supposed to be given preference, but that didn’t seem to case,” said McCown. “We would get calls from students complaining that they had to wait two or more hours in some cases for the cabs to show up.”

Last semester, McCown appointed a special committee to look into the Safe Ride situation and see what can be done to make a new program. McCown said she would like to get a plan in place for the next WSGA administration.

“We think it is an excellent program and, given our growing student body, we think the program can serve us well,” said McCown. “However, we want to find the most cost effective way to serve our students.”

The committee, which is lead by Patrick Vogelsberg, WSGA chief of staff, had been considering implementing a voucher program. Under this system, students would be given vouchers to present to the cab driver when it is time to pay the bill. However, this idea was put on hold after it was met with some resistance when it was presented to Capitol City Taxi and other Topeka-based cab companies.

“Their rates have gone up and they didn’t like the idea,” said Vogelsberg. “We have talked to other cab companies, but the response wasn’t what we would have liked.”

With the voucher system idea in a state of uncertainty, the WSGA committee has been forced to go back to the drawing board and consider other alternatives. Fortunately for them, they don’t have far to turn when looking for inspiration.

“Many other schools in this area have programs similar to what we had and we are doing research at these schools to see how they employ their Safe Ride type programs,” said Vogelsberg.

In order to ensure any future Safe Ride program is successful, certain ground rules must be enforced, said Vogelsberg. In the old agreement, students were supposed to be picked up from a drinking establishment and taken to a place of residence. However, many students took advantage of the free cab ride to go from one residence to another or to go from one bar to another.

“The service isn’t geared for bar-hopping-it was made to provide a safe ride home,” said Vogelsberg.