SafeRide, a program that provides a safe alternative to drunken driving for students returning home from Aggieville, has seen significant decrease in usage over the past few years.
Any time between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. Thursday through Saturday, students can hop on an Area Transportation Agency Bus for free and have a safe ride home. Riders must simply show their student ID. With one scan, they can ride with four guests.
However, over the past three years, ridership has continually declined. The average number of riders on Friday nights was 3,374 during the 2016-2017 school year, but last year it was just 842.
“I think there’s a couple reasons of change,” said Kelli Farris, executive director for the Center for Student Involvement. “Those numbers … from SafeRide or from ATA Bus also reflects the number of downturn in citations and arrests for DUI or other driving while intoxicated [incidents].”
Farris also mentioned the current bus system doesn’t necessarily meet the needs students may be looking for.
“I think we also see just a different generation of students at K-State now and so the current generation of students wants something that’s more immediate and more convenient and more personalized,” Farris said.
When she put out a survey earlier this semester, Farris said a lot of the feedback indicated students don’t want to stand and wait for a bus, and they don’t feel safe when they get off at a bus stop and then need to walk home.
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“It’s that immediacy that they’re finding in other ways,” Farris said. “Either by walking because they live a short distance [away] or they’re riding bikes or they’re just calling friends who are designated drivers.”
During the 2017-2018 school year, Farris said CSI went through a lot of transition as a result of student organization policy, and the focus was on staff, not SafeRide.
“So our marketing obviously took a big hit in that year and the years since, just as we’ve been trying to help support student organizations on campus,” Farris said. “And so that marketing piece is now kind of leveraging itself back out as a larger priority. And so we’ll be able to do more marketing and outreach to students and sharing more information with them as well on how to use the system.”
While Anne Smith, executive director for ATA Bus, said she thinks there are a number factors contributing to lower utilization, including lower enrollment, she sees marketing as the main problem.
“From my perspective, I think the biggest challenge over the last two to three years, [is] there’s no marketing going on,” Smith said. “We’re not paid to advertise the service. K-State is not advertising the service. Nobody knows about it.
“When I go out to the community and talk, I always mention SafeRide,” Smith continued. “If I talk to groups of students, I always bring it up, but we don’t have the funding to market it. I know that there’s probably some email blasts and I believe it’s talked about at freshman orientation, but when we have a booth up at open house, every single year the number one thing people ask about is SafeRide. Parents don’t know about it. Students don’t know about it.”
Smith said she always tries to get the word out there, as she thinks the program is vital.
“The program is one of the most important things that we do, because there’s no doubt in my mind we save lives every weekend,” Smith said.