SafeRides has saved its last life.
The program — which ran Saturday nights from 10 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., providing free, confidential transportation home to any high school student in Westport — will not reopen in September.
Directors cite 2 reasons: lack of volunteers, and Uber.
SafeRides began in May, 2009. It was the inspiration of Staples High School senior Alex Dulin — a 1-girl tornado who had recently moved here from suburban Seattle. Just 5 months later, she received the 2009 Youth Leadership Award from the Connecticut Youth Services Association.
For nearly a decade, SafeRides thrived. A board of directors — all high school students — organized volunteer drivers. It was a lot of responsibility, with plenty of training.
But it was fun too. Working in a room donated by Christ & Holy Trinity Church — and munching on pizzas delivered free every week by Westport Pizzeria — dispatchers and drivers ferried teenagers too drunk (or otherwise incapable or unable) to get in a car, from parties or friends’ houses back home.
There was plenty of support. The Westport Police Department backed the program. Kiwanis Club provided an insurance policy. And Westport Wash & Wax offered free cleaning to any driver whose passenger got sick. (It happened a few times.)
But starting last year, numbers — of volunteers and riders — dropped drastically.
A year ago there were 7, 10, 12 calls a night — with 12, 15 or 18 riders. Now there were just 1 or 2 calls, with 2 or 3 riders.
Several times this past school year — lacking enough volunteer supervisors, dispatchers and drivers — SafeRides did not operate.
She noted that SafeRides collected users’ cell numbers — and would only drive teenagers home, not to another party, the diner or McDonald’s.
Uber has none of those requirements. It often arrived quicker than SafeRides.
And — by using a parent’s credit card — Uber seemed as “free” as SafeRides actually was.
“It’s sad for kids who don’t have their parent’s credit card,” Coogan says. “What are we showing our kids — that it’s okay to take their parent’s credit card and do whatever they want?
“And for the community, it’s sad. My daughter had a blast volunteering with her friends. It’s sad that kids will grow up without that sense of giving up a couple of Saturday nights, to volunteer.”
There’s no way of knowing how many lives SafeRides saved. But Westport has not had a teenage traffic fatality in many years. It certainly worked.
Now saving lives is Uber’s responsibility.