Monday, November 27, 2006

News: For the Worried, Vulnerable or Just Plain Drunk, a Safe Ride Home


Co-founders Oraia Reid and Consuelo Ruybal pose beside one of their group’s late-night chariots.
Photograph provided by Right Rights

By John Zuarino

      Ever drunkenly wanted a free ride home from the East Village to Williamsburg or Greenpoint? Just call Right Rides on a Saturday night and they’ll make it happen.
      Recently expanded to cover 19 neighborhoods in the city, Right Rides offers a free ride home on Saturday nights for women, transpeople and gender-queer individuals from 11:59 p.m. to 3:00 a.m.
      The service began as a direct response to an August 2004 increase in assault on women in northern Brooklyn, according to Oriana Reid, co-founder and executive director of Right Rides. It was originally limited to Greenpoint and Williamsburg due to the lack of volunteers owning cars.
      But in late 2005, Right Rides received nonprofit status, and they acquired three Zipcars. Without having to worry about having a car every Saturday night, Right Rides has been able to expand their service area as well as implement new services for the community, including neighborhood safety meetings, self-defense classes and the new Safe Walks program, which offers a seasonal escort to anyone uncomfortable walking home alone.
      Right Rides has three teams running cars every Saturday night. One team runs each car and each team consists of at least one person identifying as female.
      “Having at least one female team member increases the level of comfort for passengers,” Reid said. “Especially since the program started as a direct retaliation to female assault.”
      The organization has 75 volunteers. This way, Reid says, volunteers will only have to sacrifice a few hours every four to six weeks, driving through Right Rides’ designated service areas.
      Since its inception in September 2004, Right Rides has brought more than 500 riders home safely.
      “The couple who drove made me feel really comfortable,” Eliza Biondi told Inprint after using Right Rides one Saturday night. “They were just really laid back and friendly. When they dropped me off, I apologized for not having any money on me, but they told me that their policy was to not take a penny. I appreciated that immensely.”
      Launched in 2004, The Safe Walks program operates from April to October. A team of two on bicycles accompanies callers on their walk. Teams cover a 10 to 15-block service area or a 15-minute walking radius. In 2006, its first year of operation, Safe Walks had five teams in Williamsburg and Greenpoint.
      According to Reid, some of the challenges Right Rides faces include the struggle to stabilize the operation and retain a full staff. This is difficult because an organization that offers free services to the community must be led by volunteers who believe in the cause.
      Prospects to expand to the Bronx and Harlem are currently in motion, but this can only be achieved by acquiring more Zipcars and more volunteers. Since volunteers do not accept tips, donations can be made through the Right Rides website at www.rightrides.org.

Need a Ride Home?
Here’s how the service works: You stumble tipsily from a bar and realize that A) you have no money and B) you don’t feel comfortable walking across two neighborhoods at 2 a.m. Call the dispatch number at (718) 964-7781 and wait for a Zipcar to take you home.

Right Rides currently offers pickups and drop-offs in the following neighborhoods:
Brooklyn: Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Bushwick, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights, Crown Heights, Downtown Brooklyn, Carroll Gardens, Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill, Park Slope, Gowanus Canal, Red Hook
Manhattan: East Village, Lower East Side, Chinatown
Queens: Long Island City

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