APTA | Passenger Transport
November 17, 2008

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Transit wins big at the ballot box!

Q&A with FTA's James Simpson

TARC provides a Ride to Safety


News Headlines

A Much Needed Ride to Safety
Susan R. Paisner, Senior Managing Editor

There is little more terrifying than facing a violent partner – knowing, as so many domestic violence victims do, that they have no means of transportation to escape. 

But for domestic violence victims in the Louisville, KY region, there is a program in place that offers help, safety, and – most critically – transport to these individuals.  It’s called Ride to Safety, and it’s the collective brainchild of the Center for Women and Families and J. Barry Barker, Executive Director of the Transit Authority of River City (TARC).

“It’s very simple to do and very simple to maintain,” said Barker.  All a woman need do is step on a TARC bus and say: “I need a ride to safety.”  Her travel is free, and the bus operator will radio to TARC’s Central Command Center to let the dispatcher know that there is a “ride to safety” request.  At that point, the Center will send out a special TARC truck that meets the bus along its route.  The person gets off and the TARC employee drives that individual to the nearest Center for Women and Families location.

“Some of these women don’t have car keys and they don’t have the opportunity to get away.  I thought, here was an opportunity where we could extend the range of things TARC does and accomplishes to provide one more service for the community,” he said.

One of the Center’s community educators conducts specific domestic violence training for all TARC drivers during their new employee training process.  For staff already employed, the Center conducted a one-time training.

The training has two components:  General education about domestic violence, including dispelling myths, and explaining the Ride to Safety process to the drivers when a victim boards a bus.

One of the myths of particular relevance to bus operators is that a victim will always appear frightened.  The truth, said Corissa Phillips, the Center’s director of communication, is that sometimes the violence has been such a part of their lives that they will not seem erratic or scared.  They might also have been planning this for years and at that point, board the bus and calmly say: “I need a ride to safety.” 

Barker noted that initially, he and other TARC officials had some concerns about whether they were subjecting their drivers to potential violence.  The operators’ response?  “Our drivers were unconcerned about it and have been universally supportive,” he said.

Since this program began in early 2007, the Center has found that about 3 percent of its walk-ins are taking advantage of it.  “It helps our clients to know that those bus drivers have been trained by us and if they need a safe place to go, they can talk to the bus driver,” said Jean Russell, the Center’s VP for Operations.

“It would be wonderful if we could help stir the excitement around this,” she said.  “In most civic communities, you know the public transportation agency wants to be helpful to provide as many safety nets as possible.  And given our success, we think this is a very realistic program for other communities to put into effect,” she added.

“I think the beauty of the program is that it’s so simple,” said Phillips.  “It has two ingredients: a shelter facility and a transit authority.”

This program appears to be the only one of its kind in the country.  The Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence said she had not heard of it anywhere else, terming TARC’s effort “pretty unique.”  The Director of Communications and Development for the National Network to End Domestic Violence also had not previously heard of TARC’s program – or a similar one anywhere else.  In addition, a Google search yielded only hits on TARC’s effort. 

So many communities could be implementing this partnership, Phillips said.  “It costs next to nothing.  It’s just two organizations with different missions coming together and saying – we can help each other.”

Barker agrees.  “It enables us as public transportation providers to reach out and be that much more integral to the community.  I urge other properties to reach out to similar organizations in their communities and see if they can’t get engaged,” he said.

Sidebar:  An All Too Typical Story

A Spanish-speaking victim with no private transportation options needed to find safe shelter.  Through an interpreter, the woman’s crisis counselor discovered that the woman was familiar with TARC, which further meant that with its Ride to Safety program – safety was just a bus trip away.

Since the woman did not speak English, her counselor advised her simply to board the bus and point to the Ride to Safety sign.  She did that, the bus driver immediately initiated the process, and she was safely transported to the Center’s emergency shelter.

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