GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (AP) – Colorado Mesa University has a new way to get tipsy students home safely after a night of partying.

The university began offering a free designated driver service, MavRides, on Sept. 7. Students who need a ride, whether intoxicated or not, can call from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. every Friday and Saturday. Volunteers from clubs at the school will pick them up and drop them off anywhere within a six-mile radius of the university in cars and mini-vans rented each weekend through Enterprise Rent-A-Car.

Adrian Lara, a junior at Colorado Mesa and director of MavRides, said renting is cheaper than buying cars and made buying insurance for the program easier than having volunteers use their own cars.

Lara is one of three MavRides employees who receive a stipend from the program’s two-year, $53,000 budget. The budget comes from existing student fee revenue and also funds insurance, rental fees and $100 donations clubs earn for each night they volunteer with the service. Volunteers undergo background checks before they can drive.

Students who call must provide a student identification number to the MavRides dispatcher or present their card when they are picked up. Students have caught onto the process and some just hail the service by holding up their student ID cards when they see a vehicle drive by with a MavRides magnet on the side.

The service replaces a now-extinct designated driver program called Safe Rides. Until this spring, Safe Rides volunteers gathered at Four Winds Coffee & Tea north of the university on Friday and Saturday nights and took calls on a student’s cellphone. Safe Rides required its volunteers to use their own cars and pay for their own gas.

The service wasn’t very reliable because some nights no volunteers would show up, according to former Safe Rides volunteer and current MavRides Manager Alex Forsett, a CMU sophomore.

Word of MavRides’ reliability and stronger staffing is spreading around campus, Forsett said. The service receives up to 30 calls a night now and the average wait time is 20 to 30 minutes.

“A lot of people are really happy to have the service and have it be just as reliable as a taxi,” Forsett said.

Lara said he hasn’t talked to the two taxi companies in town, Sunshine Taxi and K2 Taxi, but he doesn’t believe MavRides poses a conflict because it operates in a short radius and is only offered to students.

Jim Horton, a manager at Sunshine Taxi, said MavRides cuts into his business somewhat, “but it hasn’t been detrimental” to business.

“I can sure understand helping college students because they’re strapped for cash and we hope everybody’s safe,” Horton said.

Kilian Collins, a 20-year-old junior at Colorado Mesa who lives off-campus, said he has taken MavRides twice and used to use Safe Rides. He said he has had trouble getting taxis to pick him up before and enjoys not having to pay for MavRides.

“Any time I’ve been drinking, MavRides is my first thought,” Collins said. “It just doesn’t make sense to call a taxi when the school provides it.”

Collins said he has never worried MavRides was a “gotcha” service that reported underage drinking to police because he didn’t see why anyone would punish a student for trying to be safe. Some students, though, have expressed that fear to Lara, but he said police have never been involved in the service.

“It’s a don’t-ask-don’t-tell program. If you’re underage, we won’t deny you a ride and we will get you safely where you need to be. We don’t encourage underage drinking, but it’s college and we know it happens, so why not give them a safe outlet?” he said.

Kate Porras, spokeswoman for the Grand Junction Police Department, said officers in no way condone underage drinking. Porras said the department encourages the service for of-age students who are too drunk to drive.

“We’d rather have them use this service than get behind the wheel,” she said.

Lara said he has a personal connection to safe driving after losing some friends in drunk-driving crashes.

“Once it hits home, it makes you realize in an unfortunate manner things happen and they may not be the best things” when you drive drunk, he said.

Colorado Mesa is trying MavRides on a pilot basis for two years. Lara and Forsett hope the program gains permanent status and potentially gets permission to expand the area in which it can offer rides.

– By EMILY SHOCKLEY, The Daily Sentinel

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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