Last night, the Student Assembly unanimously approved a resolution in support of a establishing a free, door-to-door safe ride shuttle service intended to begin in the Fall 2009 semester. The resolution was initiated as a part of the Residential Student Congress’ increased efforts to address problems affecting the health and safety of Cornell students.
According to RSC President Sanjiv Tata ’09, the creation and adoption of the safe ride program will work to address the issue of drunk driving, which is becoming a crucial concern as the number of students with cars on campus increases.
“The layout of our campus and the role alcohol plays in our college’s culture has created a need for safe and user-friendly nighttime transportation,” said Ali Austerlitz ’11. Austerlitz, a representative on the RSC, initially introduced the proposal to the RSC in response to an article she read in The Sun.
The resolution passed by the S.A. last night included a generalized statement of the logistics of the safe ride program. According to the resolution, the service will initially consist of two vans, operated by trained student drivers and organized by a central dispatcher. The intended service will operate between the hours of 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
According to the proposed guidelines developed by the RSC, an oversight committee, consisting of student and administrative representatives, will be established to push the program forward and determine the logistics of its implementation.
Tata said that he envisioned the program as being primarily student run. More specifically, the RSC is aiming to have paid student volunteers operate the vehicles after completing a period of extensive training.
The proposed guidelines for the program stipulate that the oversight committee would have the responsibility of determining the salary of student volunteers as well as the training required of them.
Tata said that he hopes that the committee will be formed and officially charged by the end of this academic year. He expects to spend the next year working with the committee to resolve the details of the program. Although Tata recognized that it would be great to implement the program immediately, he said there are many factors that must first be taken into account.
“Ultimately, we are trying to ensure the safety of students and, as I see things, that’s certainly worth the time and effort,” Tata stated in an e-mail. He sees the program’s implementation as a real possibility and said it would be “enormously beneficial” to the community.
According to Tata and Ryan Lavin ’09, executive vice president of the S.A., the biggest obstacles moving forward relate to risk management and insurance. The RSC and other sponsors of the resolution have been in contact with the director of residential programs and the director of risk management while trying to work out the contours of the program.
Lavin said that the unanimous passage of the resolution by the S.A. will be influential in gaining the support needed from the administration.
“Official student support of this program is necessary for creating the leverage we need when continuing to speak with the Cornell administration,” Lavin said, who is a sponsor of the resolution.
A few S.A. representatives expressed concern that the creation of a safe ride program would lead to an increase in student drinking. In response, Tata pointed out that there has been no incidence of increased drinking at other universities that have implemented similar programs. Additionally, the RSC plans to promote the program in conjunction with alcohol consumption information.
In general, many representatives expressed their support for the program and appreciation for the RSC’s efforts to move the program forward.
According to Tata, startup costs for the program are to be primarily covered by funds raised by the RSC. He also said that Residential Life has indicated their support for and willingness to initially contribute to the program. The sponsors suggested that perhaps in the future, the safe ride program could be incorporated as a by-line funded organization.
A number of Cornell’s peer institutions, including Yale and Princeton, already have campus safe ride programs. Tata, who previously attended the University of Virginia where a similar program operated, remembered the program as being beneficial to the student body.
The safe ride service will not be connected to any law enforcement bodies and students will most likely be protected by the medical amnesty protocol.