End Of An Era: Safe Rides Shuts Down

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.

SafeRides volunteers, waiting for calls.

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.

“The kids on the board tried hard to keep it going. A lot of people tried,” SafeRides president Maureen Coogan says. “There just weren’t the numbers.”

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.

10 responses to “End Of An Era: Safe Rides Shuts Down

  1. So sad–what a great program for everyone. 100% positive

    • Not sad! Wonderful!

      A few people took the leadership to figure out a community-solution to a problem and helped a lot of people. The model became outmoded because of technology, but that doesn’t mean that the problem isn’t getting solved, nor that the effort wasn’t 100% successful.

      The leaders and supporters of Safe Rides did a wonderful thing to take the initiative and bridge the gap. Would we’d all be so lucky to have people find “interim” solutions to big problems like that! I can’t think of a single charity or medical effort that wouldn’t consider the Safe Rides model/experience the BEST outcome of all! – Chris Woods

  2. It was a wonderful program, but, unfortunately suffered from the same thing that many of our local programs do — lack of volunteers. Years ago, volunteerism was high, but now organizations beg for help. I can think of several that have had to shut down due to the shortage of “people-power.”

  3. Nancy Vener

    Original Safe Rides (1983) met a similar fate; lack of drivers,and no Uber to fall back.

    Back on.

  4. Linda Stein

    Absolutely Nancy, I worked the first Safe Rides with my high school daughter at that time. It didn’t last very long because of lack of parent volunteers.

  5. Dan, thank you for highlighting the great work this incarnation of SafeRides did for Westport. Mind if I give a shout-out to Julie Mombello who worked so tirelessly, from the very start in 2009 with Alex, as the parent volunteer, shaping it into a well-oiled machine? Besides providing an invaluable service (a safe, confidential ride home), the volunteer drivers and board learned about the mechanics of non-profit, volunteer work from Julie. She was passionate about the program and I believe those who worked with her and followed her were too. Thanks to all. I was glad it was there and hope a safe ride (in any form) is always available for our kids.

  6. Michael Calise

    A truly great program that surely benefited many and more than that highlighted the problem. Hopefully something new will surface which continues to provide support for this very important issue. My high school years were in the late fifty’s when serious accidents were a regular occurrence. My recollection is that the sixty’s were even worse, Deep appreciation for all those who worked as hard as they did on this,

  7. Having been a parent volunteer for safe rides for several years, I can say it was a great program…much thanks to all who were involved over the years 😊

  8. “What are we showing our kids — that it’s okay to take their parent’s credit card and do whatever they want?”

    If Uber app connected to dad’s credit card means those kids aren’t driving when they shouldn’t be, I don’t care what else it’s telling them!

    Good job for all the years of Safe rides – many others have fallen to Uber too, no shame in that.

  9. Nancy Hunter

    What happened to “designated drivers” among friends?