No matter what the driver said Thursday night, the lanky 20-year-old kept trying to throw money at him. Kris Swanson, at the wheel of the van, kept saying no. Swanson tried to explain that he just wanted to make sure the man, who had had too much to drink, got home safely.
Thursday was the first night of the University of South Florida (USF) student government's free taxi service for students who are too drunk to drive. The program will run Thursday through Saturday year-round.
Swanson, director of the program, acknowledged that most of Thursday was a bust. But Swanson was able to pick up one person, who kept trying to pay him for the free ride to a friend's home, even though Swanson wasn't sure whether the passenger was a student.
"At least we know the van works," he said.
The program, called Safe Ride Line, is modeled after a similar one instituted by Florida State University in Tallahassee three years ago; drivers head out from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. and will serve the areas between Interstate 75, N Dale Mabry Highway, Busch Boulevard and Bearss Avenue.
Students interested in contacting the Safe Ride Line should call 974-2401.
Along with the ride, program organizers hope to promote responsible use of alcohol by educating students on the dangers of drinking and driving.
"I'm hoping that eventually it will change the attitude that it's okay to have two or three drinks and then drive," Swanson said. "It shouldn't be their standard way to get home."
Instead, Swanson said the program advocates using designated drivers and is enlisting the support of another student-run organization, BACCHUS (Boost Alcohol Consciousness Concerning Health of University Students) to help educate students.
Right now, only one 15-passenger van is available, it was purchased with $16,000 in student government funds. The van will make stops at local nightclubs to help students get home, Swanson said.
No house party pickups will be made during the summer, Swanson said, because organizers are worried about security for the van drivers. In the fall, Swanson and others hope to help those attending house parties as well as those leaving nightclubs outside of the immediate USF area of Tampa.
Drivers also will avoid questioning passengers so students won't be discouraged from calling for a ride.
George Brown, BACCHUS adviser and director of the campus Alcohol and Resource Center, said lectures on the evils of drinking are not part of the Safe Rides. USF officials would rather encourage students to make smart decisions through skits and presentations that are given during student orientation.
"It's a better alternative," said Brown of the program. "Who wants to be in a car with a drunk driver?"
Quite a few students, according to campus police.
Forty-two drunk driving arrests were made on USF's campus alone, according University Police Lt. Robert Staehle.
"It seems to be a rite of passage that alcohol is a part of the culturalization of college freshmen," Staehle said. "They're what we call instant adults: Just add beer."