Safe Ride rebranded as Rabbit Ride

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Program offers new app, still getting riders from Point A to Point B

BROOKINGS – Brookings Area Transit Authority and South Dakota State University rebranded their Safe Ride program this year. 

It’s still getting students, community members and visitors safely from Point A to Point B, but it’s now known as Rabbit Ride. 

The service remains the same: BATA offering free rides to those in need on Friday and Saturday evenings, from 9 p.m.-2:30 a.m. during the academic year, all around the City of Brookings. However, the rebranding comes with a new phone app that makes the service much more efficient and easier for students to use. 

The app is called TapRide and is, along with the service, free to use. With it, SDSU students are able to look up SDSU on the app, log in with their student account and utilize the service from there. Anyone who isn’t a student can still use the service; they just have to call 695-3984, and the driver will come pick them up.

“This is roughly the 14th year for the Safe Ride … and it originated with a grant through the university – and USD has had this as well – but the promotion and focus of it is to provide a safe alternative ride for those that choose to and need to have a safe ride,” BATA Executive Director Brenda Schweitzer said. “It’s not necessarily for those just drinking, but those not feeling safe walking home – that type of thing. So that’s where this originated, and we’ve had a consistent collaboration with (South Dakota State University and the state), and numbers kind of fluctuate with the university numbers, economy plays a role in it – numbers kind of play back and forth a little bit.”

Jay Caylor, BATA’s coordinator for Rabbit Ride, said each year really varies in Brookings. Use directly correlates with how many students are on SDSU’s campus as well as the status of the bars downtown. This year has been slower due to the pandemic. But every so often, he said, the Rabbit Ride services are utilized quite frequently.

“Technology plays a huge role for us here, and yet our technology wasn’t where it needed to be for the Safe Ride program. Everyone likes an app for this and an app for that, and part of our program is having count (of riders) in statistics for justifying the program when you’re requesting your grant,” Schweitzer said.

Caylor said they’ve been working on a rebranding process since last year. 

“It works just like a Lyft or Uber app for SDSU students,” he said. “The app shows where the buses are and gives locations and such, and it can ‘honk’ at them when the bus is outside waiting for them.”

“And this is kind of a focus for the university. We have so many different kinds of software available to us for the rural and urban transit programs, but this is more of a focus for university transit and campus opportunities,” Schweitzer said.

Caylor said that due to pandemic conditions, there have been limited buses available Friday and Saturday evenings. “If there’s a busier weekend, we’ll put more buses out there, but until then we’re going to keep our numbers down,” he said.

Anywhere from a 16-passenger bus to a 48-passenger bus have been used to accommodate demand.

“As long as you’re within the service area, anyone can get a ride from us, not just SDSU students,” Caylor said.

The app shows the service area within the city, usually extending to from 20th Street South to Highway 14 and from 22nd Avenue to downtown Brookings.

“Typically the SDSU Students’ Association kind of works with us on taking a look at what the demographics of the community are and where the higher concentration of students are, so then there’s a flexibility in the map itself in where those numbers are as to where those students are … it changes all the time,” Schweitzer said.

“It’s free in the sense that it’s grant-funded through the Department of Highway Safety. We collaborate our grant with it, so we contract out with the university on the driver in our vehicle. We also allow some of our funding for it … so when we say ‘free,’ it comes with a price tag for us,” Schweitzer said. “But some places do charge, and that’s been really important for this program is to have riders without having them pay.”

Mariah Weber, assistant director of programs and development at the SDSU Wellness Center, is the grant writer for the Rabbit Ride.

“On the SDSU side, I am the project manager. So I write the grant application every year, … and I also schedule, hire and train all of the Rabbit Ride monitors who sit on the bus. They’re students who sit on the bus with the driver and kind of handle our ridership system,” Weber said.

“Anyone can utilize the program. I would say probably 95% of the users are SDSU students, but you don’t have to be. You can be a visitor or a community member – anybody who essentially needs a ride form point A to point B can get a ride,” Weber said.

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Contact Matthew Rhodes at [email protected]


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