The University of Mississippi is ranked one of the safest college campuses in the nation. Year after year, new committees are formed, and new rules and regulations are implemented to keep students safe during their time on campus.
However, it is much more difficult to ensure Ole Miss students’ safety once they travel off-campus, particularly on the weekends.
Years ago, the University of Mississippi created a way for current students to go to and from the Oxford Square safely in the form of a free transportation service commonly referred to as “Rebel Ride.”
After insurance issues and many other undisclosed reasons, Ole Miss shut down Rebel Ride services in 2013.
Since Rebel Ride was funded entirely by the University of Mississippi, there was nothing students could do to challenge or avoid the sudden closure. For the remainder of the spring semester, Ole Miss students were forced to find new modes of weekend transportation.
Transportation is a thriving business, especially in a busy college town like Oxford, and in the fall of 2014, a group of Ole Miss students took notice of that.
After collaborating with the university, the Students for Safe Ride organization was created, and the UM Safe Ride Program was put into effect.
Originally, “Safe Ride” was put in place to temporarily fill the void of Rebel Ride. Safe Ride operated on various weekends for test runs, and after successfully transporting Ole Miss students safely without any problems, Safe Ride was permanently installed in the fall of 2014 with financial help from the university.
In 2014, the University of Mississippi funded approximately 50 percent of the cost to run and operate Safe Ride. However, in 2015, the university dropped funding to only 25 percent.
Currently, it costs $75,000 to run and operate Safe Ride for a full year. With the university allocating less money to the UM Safe Ride Program than years prior, it has come under scrutiny whether or not Safe Ride will be able to continue providing its services after this academic year. There are 47 Students for Safe Ride committee members who are actively working to solve this problem.
President of Students for Safe Ride Gabriella Gonzaba leads committee members in helping ensure Safe Ride’s continued presences within the university.
“I think its something that our campus really needs, because a lot of other schools in the SEC have a program like this for free for their students,” she said. “I don’t think that it has anything to do with Ole Miss being a certain type of environment. I think it’s just a thing that every college campus should have.”
The Students for Safe Ride organization currently has a Student Life Fund that recently passed through the University of Mississippi Associated Student Body that can potentially contribute financially to the UM Safe Ride Program.
The problem is, however, that financial support from the Student Life Fund is not guaranteed. It is up to the members of the Associated Student Body to decide how the money from the Student Life Fund is allocated, and Students for Safe Ride committee members worry that the UM Safe Ride Program may be overlooked.
Gonzaba states that she hopes the ASB chooses to help the Students for Safe Ride organization financially because so many students use the Safe Ride service.
However, to avoid issues similar to those of Rebel Ride, Gonzaba does not want to rely solely on the university or ASB to run the program.
“I don’t want to put all our weight on ABS and the Student Life Fund to get all of our funding,” she said, “but I don’t want to put it all on ourselves because that’s a lot for one organization.”
If the ABS chooses to use the Student Life Fund to financially support a different cause or organization, then the Students for Safe Ride organization will have to work that much harder to get funding from elsewhere.
“We are a business, so you have to have funds coming in somehow,” said Gonzaba. A majority of the money spent by Safe Ride goes towards the bus company, which is much more expensive that the company used in Rebel Ride.
Using a cheaper company would definitely lessen the overall cost to run the Safe Ride service, but the Students for Safe Ride organization refuses to take any loop holes.
“We’re Safe Ride. We don’t want to provide our students with an unsafe environment with the drivers of the buses,” said Gonzaba.
Although Students for Safe Ride does not know how much money they will be receiving from the Student Life Fund, they are wasting no time getting the word out about the program.
Safe Ride’s first fundraiser “Safe Ride Going up on a Taco Tuesday” was held Tuesday, April 14, at South Depot on the Square from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Students for Safe Ride Social Media Coordinator Nina Brown, who oversees all of the online marketing and publicity, said one of the biggest challenges is getting the word out to people that Safe Ride is available.
The organization hopes to not only spread the word through this event that Safe Ride is indeed running, but also to persuade students to choose Safe Ride in the future over other potentially less safe means of transportation.
“[We] try to make the service seem appealing to students,” Brown said. “I feel that the more relatable we come across, the more likely students are to use Safe Ride, which is obviously the goal.”
Safe Ride runs Thursday through Saturday from 9:30 p.m. to 1 a.m., excluding holidays and finals week. Safe Ride picks up in the parking lot behind Phi Mu, in front of Crosby Hall, behind Martin and Stockard, and behind Sigma Chi on Fraternity Row. Safe Ride drops off at the Square across from Rebel Book Store. There are two alternating buses in intervals of 15 minutes.
Individuals interested in serving on Students for Safe Ride must apply for membership. Five executive committee members will review applications and choose applicants for an interview.
Those who make it past the interview process with be placed on one of the following committees: Structure, Social Media, Marketing/Publicity, or Fundraising/Planning.