Free rides for drunk college kids: Student-led nonprofit hoping for fall launch
Published by: Springfield News Leader
Author: Thomas Gounley
Date: March 24, 2016
A student-led Springfield nonprofit that aims to combat drunk driving by providing intoxicated college kids with free rides home hopes to launch this fall.
RIDE417, founded last year by two Evangel University students, plans to operate from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, with volunteer student drivers shuttling riders from the bars back home. As part of an effort to raise the organization’s profile, co-founder Ally Walsh presented at Wednesday’s 1 Million Cups Springfield meeting, where she said RIDE417 could coexist with traditional taxis and companies like Uber, which has expressed interest in the Springfield market.
“We don’t see them as competition, because we’re just one aspect of solving this multi-faceted, complex problem of drunk driving,” Walsh said in response to an audience member’s question. “Any more transportation in Springfield is a good thing in my opinion.”
RIDE417 is modeled after organizations that provide “safe rides” at other universities around the country. STRIPES, or Supportive Tigers Riding In Pursuit of Ensuring Safety, has been in place at the University of Missouri since 2001, for example, while CARPOOL was established at Texas A&M University in the late 1990s after its founder was arrested for driving while intoxicated.
“Because CARPOOL started 15 years ago, we’re not reinventing the wheel,” Walsh said.
Still, RIDE417 will be different in the sense that it is entirely independent, and not specific to one college. Walsh said the organization has met with administrators from Evangel, Drury University, Missouri State University and Ozarks Technical Community College, and plans to offer rides to students from all of them.
“We’re really excited about creating bridges between the university students here in town,” Walsh told the News-Leader.
The program will rely on volunteer drivers, but will still have costs. RIDE417 plans to operate using rental cars, starting with five each night and adjusting as demand requires. Walsh estimated a cost of about $400 per night of operation, or approximately $75,000 in the first year.
That will be funded, Walsh hopes, by a mix of corporate sponsorship, private donations and grants. She said RIDE417 has raised about $6,000 so far, and wants to raise half to three-quarters of its first year budget by the time it begins offering rides.
(Photo: Courtesy of Evangel University)
Walsh and co-founder Jami McConnell started RIDE417 after questioning why something similar to STRIPES wasn’t already operating in Springfield, given the number of college students. The duo were awarded $1,000 last year as semifinalist winners in the annual Venture Creation Challenge at the University of Missouri–Kansas City.
About 50 students have expressed interest in being volunteer drivers, Walsh said. The ultimate goal is to have 150 people who each volunteer at least five nights per semester.
Walsh said using Enterprise rental cars, while somewhat expensive, makes sense because drivers will be covered by the company’s insurance. To minimize risk, Walsh said RIDE417 will ensure each car has a male and a female volunteer — one driving and one navigating — and that volunteers will receive training, be in constant contact with headquarters and have code words so they can talk discretely when riders are present.
The service will only be available during academic semesters. At least one person in each group getting a ride will be required to show a student ID, Walsh said.
The service will pick up and drop off anywhere in city limits, provided it’s the rider’s last stop for the night — the service isn’t intended to expedite a bar crawl. A phone number has already been claimed — 417-595-RIDE — and a mobile app is in development. RIDE417’s mission statement says it will be confidential and “non-judgmental.”
Because the service won’t charge riders, it appears to be exempt from city code regulating vehicles for hire, city licensing supervisor Buffee Smith told the News-Leader, although she cautioned she hadn’t fully researched RIDE417.
Walsh, who is originally from the Washington D.C. area, and McConnell, of Marshfield, are both seniors who will graduate in May. They plan to be in the area long enough for the organization to get a foothold, but ultimately plan for current college students to lead it in the future.
The organization also plans to have an executive board that includes representatives from the various colleges, the police department and the legal field.