“What’s that sober ride’s number again?”
In a poll of 100 random students conducted by 22807 Magazine, if given the options of taking an Uber, cab, SafeRide or sober ride, 39 percent of the students preferred to travel via a sober ride on the weekends. Uber came in second at 33 percent, followed by cab (16 percent) and SafeRides (12 percent).
A sober ride can come in the form of a sober friend, a Facebook post by a user offering rides that evening or an organization giving rides to its members. Most students who choose to travel via a sober ride say it’s mainly because of pricing and trustworthiness.
“I don’t have enough money to always do Uber,” Kara Chwalowski, a senior interdisciplinary liberal studies major, says. “I have a lot of friends that’ll do sober rides and I’ll usually just call them.”
On a normal weekend night, individual JMU Facebook class pages are littered with students advertising sober rides. Sober rides are an effective way for students to navigate weekend nights for a cheap price, or even for free.
“Usually on the JMU Facebook page people will post, or sometimes I have friends or sorority sisters that are doing it too,” Abby Koenig, a sophomore interdisciplinary liberal studies major, says.
Uber, a transportation network company founded in 2009, allows users with smartphones to request a ride using the Uber app, which alerts the nearest Uber driver in the area of the user’s location. Uber came to Harrisonburg in October 2015, giving students a new option for weekend transportation.
“It’s so convenient. My credit card is hooked up to it, it’s just so easy,” Ashton Mitchell, a freshman kinesiology major, says.
Once an Uber ride is completed, the user rates the driver on their experience during the ride on a one to five-star scale. If a driver’s rating ever dips below a certain number, the driver’s account is deactivated.
“It’s pretty convenient and it’s not overpriced either,” Adam Lundquist, a junior finance major, says. “Ubers’ cars are a lot nicer [than cabs] and Uber drivers are sometimes more friendly.”
One potential downside to Uber are it’s surcharge rates, according to an anonymous student. When there’s high demand for rides, but aren’t that many drivers in the area, Uber charges more in order to use its services. Riders are prone to these on busy weekends.
“I was pretty drunk on Halloween weekend and needed a ride home”, says an anonymous student who prefers to remain nameless. “I didn’t realize the surcharge rates and I woke up with a 50 dollar bill from Uber.”
Since Uber came to Harrisonburg, Royal Cab & Limousine, a local cab company, has seen declines in revenue and has had to lay off employees.
“It did affect our cab company … We used to have 15 to 18 drivers. Now we have like eight to ten, so half of the business has been taken by Uber,” Waseem Afribi, owner of Royal Cab & Limousine, says.
A free alternative to taking a cab or Uber is SafeRides. SafeRides is an organization on campus that provides free rides to students on the weekends between the hours of 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. Currently, the organization has five to six cars running per night. The cars used are rental cars from Hertz funded by donations from private sponsorships, donations and membership dues.
“We are a student run, non-profit organization whose mission is to create a safer community for the city of Harrisonburg. Members work to prevent drunk driving by educating JMU students, fundraising to help support our mission and providing free rides home to JMU students,” says SafeRide’s website.
According to SafeRides Operations Director Johnny Bachrach, SafeRides tries to educate students by sharing their knowledge of drunk driving and statistics to their riders. SafeRides holds a SafeRides Week every semester where drunk driving prevention is pushed for exposure on campus.
Although SafeRides is a popular transportation option, some students prefer other options.
“SafeRides is always busy. That’s why I never call them,” Ashleigh Salyers, a senior justice studies major, says.
It’s tough for SafeRides to please all of its callers because so many students would like a free ride home. The amount of cars working each weekend is dependent on the amount of funding that the organization receives, according to Helai Karim, SafeRide’s education and outreach director.
“While acknowledging that our wait times can be long, it is important to realize that we are a completely independent, student-run, nonprofit organization,” Karim says. “Our current budgets allows for about five to six cars per night on average. While our long-term goal is to pick up students quickly, our main priority during operation is getting students home safely.”
Salyers and Paul Peterson, a junior kinesiology major, prefer to take sober rides, but when none are available, they’d rather take a cab than an Uber or SafeRide.
“I think Uber is more expensive,” Peterson says.
Salyers believes that the importance of the ride cost trumps the importance of the driver’s friendliness when deciding on her form of transportation, except when she’s alone.
“You don’t always care because you’re with people to talk to,” Salyers says. “If I was going alone I’d probably call an Uber.”
Even with Uber currently in Harrisonburg, some students still prefer to take cabs to their destinations.
“I normally would take a cab because those are really easy. They can normally pick you up within a couple of minutes,” Carrie Domenic, a junior English major, says. “I was actually in a cab one time with my roommate and one of her professors was our cab driver and he recognized her. They talked about class and it was really funny.”
If she’s presented with the option of taking an Uber or a cab, Koenig bases her choice off convenience as well as the friendliness of the driver.
“I think Uber drivers are friendlier. I don’t know why that is, but they tend to talk to you more and seem to be overall friendlier [than cab drivers],” Koenig says.
Thus, even with competing driving services, there’s no shortage of students needing rides in order to return safely to their residences. Their only decision is what number to call.
Artwork by Catherine Baldwin