Cougar Safe Rides searches for new volunteers

Following trial run last semester, transit service looks to widen staff.



Emily Nguyen, Sophomore majoring in nursing talk about some of the rebranding and changes that the Cougar Safe Ride program went through, Friday afternoon.

Sydney Brown, Evergreen life editor

Women’s Transit became a staple of WSU’s transportation system decades ago, but its revival as Cougar Safe Rides poses new challenges and expectations for its program leaders.

One of the four program leaders, graduate math major Jarrick Wick, began his role in Women’s Transit during his freshman year. In the years following, Wick watched the program shift as it catered to the overarching needs of the student body.

“When the program began in 1977, it only gave rides to women,” Wick said. “This isn’t the case anymore and hasn’t been the case for decades. The name change was chosen to reflect that.”

Wick said plenty of changes happened under the circulating group of people in charge. Wick saw several program directors, coordinators and an interim director move in and out, each with their own interpretations of the program’s mission.

“Ultimately, I think the shift in leadership allowed the program to become more efficient,” Wick said.

In the spring of 2017, Women’s Transit went through a temporary review, Wick said. Leaders of the program kept busy, however, as a public forum held over the possible changes heard the opinions of the community.

Though the transportation service brought in thousands of customers while running, Wick said, there came a necessary point where the program had to be looked at under a finely tuned scope.

“A lot of the closure came about because it was time to make sure our program was fulfilling the needs the community has,” Wick said. “We wanted it to be safe, effective and a proper use of funds.”

Wick assured the closure was not a result of major structural problems, but emphasized maintaining the goal of Women’s Transit, which was providing a safe and reliable service for students.

In order to achieve this, the program had to shut down and look at any possible fractures in the system.

Cougar Safe Rides premiered its rebranding last semester, which allowed its members to gain experience and demonstrate the program’s improvements, Wick said.

“We had a full weekend of service,” Wick said. “The goal was to improve upon a system that had been in place years before and I think we met that goal. We learned about what worked and what didn’t work.”

With some of their newer policies in place, like more efficient scheduling and filing systems, Wick said the largest obstacle of the semester so far will be acquiring enough volunteers. The adjustment period is not over yet, as the semester poses somewhat of a trial run for the new changes implemented.

Program leader Emily Nguyen, a sophomore nursing major, said because Cougar Safe Rides is still gaining traction in the new semester, convincing possible volunteers to attend orientation and training is a feat in itself.

Once accepted, volunteers must undergo a few training sessions, with hours logged under community service. They also must partake in a driving and criminal background check, though Nguyen said criminal behavior has never been a problem in the program.

“The biggest thing we look for in a volunteer is a willingness to take multiple shifts,” Wick said. “They have to show they are willing to follow the rules.”

Despite the challenge of receiving new members, the retention rate for older volunteers is high within the program, Nguyen said.

“I feel like volunteering with us is a good time,” Nguyen said. “I think that’s a big part of why our volunteers come back to us.”

Wick said one of the main reasons for his long service at Cougar Safe Rides was the building of a community among the volunteers. They spend hours together during training sessions and bond under a shared experience, one centered on helping Pullman residents.

Women’s Transit was the first of its nature, but now college students are given other late-night transportation services. However, Wick emphasized the specific need Cougar Safe Rides fulfills. By following certain rules, such as allowing for one passenger in one vehicle, the need for free and safe transportation is filled by a university program working to reduce drunk driving and sexual assault late at night.

“When the program got shut down my freshmen year, I was really sad because I knew it was for such a great cause,” Nguyen said. “Now that it’s up and running again, a huge part of why I’m a program leader is because I’m so dedicated to it.”

When premiering Cougar Safe Rides, Nguyen said many people from the community were very supportive. Nguyen hoped this would translate into a wider volunteer base, since she knows many people are as unsettled as she is by students walking home alone at night.

“I’m just excited to watch the program grow in both volunteers and our reach,” Nguyen said.

Cougar Safe Rides runs weekly 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday through Saturday. Anyone interested can volunteer on the Women’s Transit website.