OSU’s Saferide: Stranded by Its Own Policies

The Oregon State University community is enveloped in the same bubble prevalent on college campuses throughout the country: students are at OSU to get an education, make lifelong friends, and experience life on their own—and the rest of the world seems to slip away. But the insulating atmosphere of a college campus diminishes as each day fades to night; many people feel uneasy trekking across campus or the city in the dark. While OSU is an academic institution, above all else, its job is to keep students safe, which is why it provides a service called Saferide.

What is Saferide?

Saferide is a transportation service dedicated to assault prevention that students, faculty, and staff may use free of charge (although it’s funded by student fees) that drives individuals to and from campus, should they feel unsafe getting where they need to go on their own.

So, you’re thinking, “Awesome. This sounds like a great service.” And you’re right, Saferide helps its users stay safe at night. But it’s important to note that limitations exist on both the user and provider sides of the Saferide equation.

The program provides a valuable service to properly credentialed users, allowing students the freedom to spend hours in the library without worrying about how they will find a way home. But don’t count on it to get you home after a party—the first policy listed on the Saferide website states that drivers will not pick up or drop off students at bars, and will not service commercial locations. Instead, these potential Saferide users should try the free Beaver Bus or a local taxi.

Additionally, according to the Saferide website, the program “provides rides to groups of two or less.  If there are more than two people in a group, SafeRide finds that the use of our services would be a transportation issue as opposed to a sexual assault prevention issue.” If you study as a group, Saferide may not be an option for your late-night trip home.

Students Left Behind

Matt O’Brien, a Saferide driver until graduating last year, agrees that while Saferide provides a valuable service, it has its flaws.

“The biggest problem with Saferide is that it’s micromanaged by people in ASOSU [Associated Students of Oregon State University] who are not part of the day-to-day interaction,” he said. “Primarily, Amelia Harris who is now the president of ASOSU. She micromanages every policy and has made the Saferide director implement them.”

O’Brien also pointed out one of the most important issues facing Saferide users: the recent ID policy.

“One of the things that has been instituted is a mandatory ID check for Saferide passengers. Many times we had to deny service to people who were clearly students who did not have their ID because we did not want to get in trouble.”

There are countless stories of students turned away by Saferide because they lacked appropriate identification. Kayla Hedwall, a senior at OSU, found out about the new ID policy one night, after preparing for a group project at a friend’s house.

“All I had was my state issued ID and debit card, the bare minimum because I was just seeing a few friends,” explained Kayla.

She was kicked out of the Saferide van after one block because she didn’t have her OSU ID. Hedwall told the driver that she would be more than happy to show her ID once she got home (she could run inside and grab it), but it was to no avail.

 “I have not called Saferide since that day even in times when it would have been beneficial or safer because I do not respect or even fully trust the service anymore,” Kayla added.

Stories like Hedwall’s are common and defeat the entire purpose of the Saferide. It’s odd that a student can get into Dixon Rec. Center with a valid driver’s license and a corresponding student ID number, but cannot manage a ride with the same credentials.

Harris, who won the ASOSU presidential election—which garnered a pitiful 1,871 total votes from a community of students almost 26,000 strong—by only 71 votes, effectively disables Saferide drivers from using their own discretion to accept or deny passengers. Drivers could otherwise decide whether someone is just looking for a free ride to a friend’s house, or if they truly need safe transportation.

Harris claims that the mandatory ID check was implemented toensure that the student fee-funded program serves the students paying into it.” While this makes sense, it also seems contradictory that Saferide drivers have to deny rides to people who are obviously students.

Saferide’s Management Issues

And why does the ASOSU President feel the need to micromanage programs she is not involved with on a daily basis? It seems more reasonable to instead hire effective employees who can run the Saferide program under minimal supervision.

“[Saferide] tends to hire friends and family members [of current employees] to work instead of the best qualified applicants,” said O’Brien.

When Harris was asked about the hiring practices of Saferide, she said that OSU policy is followed—people may not hire someone directly related to them. This policy, however, has no bearing on a supervisor hiring a family member of someone already working for Saferide, or hiring a non-related friend. As ASOSU President, Harris hires the Executive Director of Community Resources who oversees the Saferide program. She also hired the Saferide director, Tim Daniel. Harris is not on the hiring committee this year.

O’Brien went on to cite an Employee of the Month winner who was not rehired this year because there were other supposedly “more qualified” candidates. When the employee asked Harris why he was not rehired, he was told simply that the hiring process was over, but that he could take an unpaid internship course. It seems that Harris struggled while on the hiring committee last year, and continues to struggle to effectively direct student resources and hire effective managers.

As far as the product goes, Saferide is pretty stellar. The nuts and bolts need work, however. Hopefully whoever replaces Harris will both receive more than 971 votes, and hire employees who have the ability to use their own judgment to provide an even better service than what is available now.

by Brendan O’Callaghan