Drunk taxi or safety staple?

May 18, 2010, 12:53 a.m.
Drunk taxi or safety staple?
(CRIS BAUTISTA/The Stanford Daily)

After partying for several hours, a girl who has been drinking finds herself outside some frat, freezing in her short skirt. Her phone is dead, she lost her friends a while ago and now she’s dreading the lonely walk back to east campus.

Just when it seems too cold, too dark and way too far to head home, a golf cart with a flashing green light pulls up.

“Do you need a ride?” says a smiling 5-SURE student driver. Drunken passengers cheer as the girl gratefully jumps in.

5-SURE is Stanford’s official safety escort service meant to provide a protected means of transport across campus for students after dark, when they are most at risk of assault.

SURE (Students United for Rape Elimination) was born at Stanford in 1979, when a male student, disturbed by the increase in the number of campus rape incidents, recruited 30 student volunteers to bike to locations across campus and walk students home after dark. Despite criticism from the community about gender stereotypes of this chivalry guard, SURE ran smoothly for several years until it was stopped in the ‘80s.

SURE was reborn in the ‘90s as 5-SURE under Student Activities and Leadership, with a dedicated group of students determined to make campus safer for everyone. Armed with golf carts, two-way radios and paid drivers, 5-SURE strived to become a reliable and trustworthy safety service. Today, based in Old Union, they operate seven days a week, from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., with six small golf carts, one bigger “limo” golf cart and one car.

“I joined because of the mission statement and what it did for the campus — making people feel more safe on campus,” said Matthew Rivera ‘11, who joined 5-SURE his freshman year and became manager at the beginning of last quarter.

“I like the community service aspect of the job,” added Corey Murphy ‘12, who began driving for 5-SURE this year. “One of the best parts of the job is that as a whole, all of the employees are committed to providing safety and improving the community.”

5-SURE is not blind to this faction of their clientele who use the service primarily for convenience, however.

“It’s not frustrating when we’re not busy,” Rivera said. “Do we call it abuse of the system? Or do we need to change our mission statement to reflect the needs of the campus?”

These questions are a subject of internal debate, as 5-SURE staff members discuss whether to keep their focus on safety or to expand the official goals of the service to include transporting students irrespective of that issue.

As things stand now, higher-risk students are given a higher priority for rides, but 5-SURE employees never refuse service.

“One of our biggest frustrations right now is trying to find a mission statement that balances our community service aspect to our taxi-service aspect,” Murphy said.

Rivera added that the group is trying to introduce new policies to focus on their original aim to provide safety to the campus. One such policy is adding a limit to the size of groups they would pick up, as large groups of students traveling across campus aren’t at high risk.

Whatever their purpose, 5-SURE’s services are certainly in high demand. During the weekend, Murphy said that she’s never seen more than a 20-minute time span without a phone call.

On a 5-SURE ride, it’s common to hear the drivers constantly talking into their radios, being directed to pick-ups all across campus. 5-SURE drivers pride themselves on their friendly and approachable demeanor — they say this sets them apart from similar services on other campuses.

But it isn’t always easy to maintain this pleasant demeanor. Murphy and Rivera both spoke of the occasional unpleasantness of dealing with drunk and angry students and of cleaning the carts back at Old Union after students vomit.

But they also have the chance to connect with students who may be at their most vulnerable.

Rivera once picked up an inebriated but very bulky, muscular athlete who, on the drive home, completely broke down about his relationship woes. He felt pressured by his friends to treat a recent ex-girlfriend poorly, he said, but really he still cared about her.

“It was a very sweet, human moment,” Rivera said with a smile.

Murphy added that student appreciation of the service is another perk of the job.

“When people are very vocal about being thankful, it’s incredibly gratifying,” Murphy said. “It’s the best part of the job.”

But students using the service aren’t always happy.

“Our biggest complaints are about wait-time,” Rivera said. “People get really angry on the phone because of unreliable wait times. But when people take long to come out, it’s really out of our control.”

“We can’t really afford to have eight people on call — we do the best we can with our funding,” Murphy added. “We do not block calls, contrary to popular belief! We have a high volume of calls, and only one phone.”

Rivera said that 5-SURE is working to introduce a number of changes to improve efficiency and is incorporating user feedback. They’ve already been given one car, which has greatly reduced wait time, and they’re trying to get more.

Rivera said that they currently have an intern from Santa Clara doing research about escort services across the nation who has found that Stanford has one of the best and only campus door-to-door safety services.

Ariana Koblitz ‘12 said she appreciated the option of safe transportation.

“As a girl, there are times that I could walk home alone, but knowing that I have the choice to get a ride is comforting.”

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