Safe Ride: Ole Miss offers free, late-night transportation to the Square

Natalie Beth Seales

Did you know that there is a free way to stay safe and enjoy nightlife on the Square?

Safe Ride, formerly known as Rebel Ride, is a free transportation service from campus to the Square offered Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.

The idea for Safe Ride came from Linda Spargo, the University of Mississippi’s coordinator of special projects. In 1999, Spargo noticed a high amount of alcohol-related arrests and set out to make an impact.

“I got a group of campus leaders together,” said Spargo. “They were well known on campus, and we literally met every week for a semester.”

The group conducted surveys and researched the effects of alcohol and drunk driving at Ole Miss and other SEC schools, as well as possible solutions. They found that alcohol-related crime was a widespread problem with national research on the topic.

“We didn’t know what we were going to do,” said Spargo. “We just wanted to do something.”

After being allowed to use trolleys to transport students from campus to the Square for several semesters, their ridership started fading due to organizational issues with the trolley owner.

Soon after Rebel Ride had ceased running, a car accident had a major effect on both the student body and Oxford community. In the spring of 2003, Laura Treppendahl, a student from Tupelo, was killed in a car accident by another student who had been driving under the influence of alcohol.

The summer following Treppendahls’s death, Spargo was approached by two student leaders. “The outgoing student body president and the incoming student body president came to me and said, ‘We have to run it [Rebel Ride],’” said Spargo.

After receiving overwhelming support from the chancellor at the time, Robert Khayat, they received university funding and began running buses again.

Years of successful transportation later, after gaining a new chancellor and vice chancellor, Rebel Ride’s funding was reduced over three years.

After the owner of the trolleys that Rebel Ride had been using failed to follow MDOT regulations, the organization faced reduced funding and leaders had to rent vans to transport students. They were doing their best just to continue offering the service until the end of the 2014-2015 school year.

In 2015, when Rebel Ride was facing its inevitable closure, university funding was ending, and they were running out of transportation options, Oxford’s Mayor George “Pat” Patterson became aware of the Rebel Ride’s bleak future.

In an effort to help the ever-growing parking and traffic issues, Patterson offered the use of Oxford-University-Transit buses for Rebel Ride’s use to create a partnership with the university and to strengthen the existing bus services.

Spargo was overjoyed at the city’s support of the group that is so important to her and views Safe Ride’s function and purpose as vital to the University of Mississippi.

“It is the responsibility of a university to teach people about alcohol abuse, sexual assault, being safe on campus, you know, taking care of yourself,” said Spargo. “I do believe that’s a part of our job.”

The students on the Safe Ride committee rebranded themselves as Safe Ride and are confident in the organization’s future.

“Its not just us fighting for it [Safe Ride] or the university fighting for the continued running of it, it’s us, the university and the city,” said Natalie Truong, UM senior and president of Safe Ride. “It shows that they support what we are doing, and what we are doing matters in our student body.”

While Safe Ride is a free alternative to driving under the influence of alcohol, that isn’t the only potential benefit.

Safe Ride has started working with Rebels Against Sexual Assault, or RASA, in their efforts for a safer campus and community.

Because alcohol-related issues and sexual assault are two major problems many college campuses are dealing with, Safe Ride’s leadership feels it is an important partnership.

“We want to work with them [RASA] to raise awareness for sexual assault and alcohol,” said Truong. “I feel like that goes hand in hand.”

In the future, Safe Ride hopes to expand their hours and their pick-up locations.

“I want to broaden our route so that we can have more stops for the student body,” said Truong. “I know not everyone lives on campus.”

While there are other alternatives besides Safe Ride, it is still an important option to give students.

“People are still going to have taxis and Uber, but it [Safe Ride] is free,” said Spargo. “Just think how many students you’d be carrying into the more distanced places in this small town. They wouldn’t be drinking and driving on those roads.”

Safe Ride runs Thursday and Friday from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. and Saturday from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. from campus to the Square.

There are stops at Paris Yates Chapel, Sorority Row, Northgate, Crosby Hall, Burns/Minor/Pittman, and on the Square across from the Episcopal church.

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