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Sunday, September 22, 2013

Randy Huff And South Side Sober Rides Provide Valuable Service To Community, Get People Home Safe For Free.

Drinking and then riding

 Rain droplets swished against bus tires that rolled from Cabell Drive to Pearce Ford Tower, from Campus Pointe to 16th Avenue and back again. At each stop, groups of college students piled on, standing or sitting in a friend or stranger’s lap if there were no more vacant seats.

Pop and rap music gently thumped in the background until someone yelled, “I love this song. Turn it up!” The music then pounded the windows, prompting everyone to dance and holler.

A woman named Holly wore a shirt that said “Yvonne” and took calls for South Side Sober Ride, a free transportation service in Bowling Green. The phone rang steadily from 10 p.m. Friday to 2 a.m. Saturday, most callers college students trying to get to or from a party safely and who didn’t have the money for a cab.

South Side Sober Ride, or the Sober Bus, grew from an idea South Side Auto owner and former Deputy Constable Randy Huff of Bowling Green had in 2009 on New Year’s Eve.
He said he knew a lot of people who were too intoxicated to drive on New Year’s Eve would drive anyway, and he offered a free ride to anyone who wanted one to make sure they didn’t drive after drinking. Huff offered rides on New Year’s Eve for the next four years. He decided there was a need for free rides all year long, so he officially began South Side Sober Ride in April.
“I just had a calling, and I wanted to do something different,” Huff said Friday in his office.
Huff said driving while under the influence of alcohol is dangerous for everyone, and he started South Side Sober Ride to help the community. “We just don’t want you to drink and drive,” Huff said.

On Friday, Huff repeated that phrase, thanking everyone who rode the bus for making the right decision to not drink and drive.
Sierra “Ceecee” Smith, a Western Kentucky University freshman from Nashville, said she calls South Side Sober Ride every weekend. “This is the best thing you all could provide ever,” Smith told Huff as the 12-passenger bus rumbled toward a party on Cabell Drive.
Smith said she had not heard of South Side Sober Ride, but she and some friends had been walking home from a party early in the semester and the bus stopped and told them to get in. Walking had been an easier solution to avoid illegally driving than calling a cab for Smith.
Because the bus is free, it works best for her.
“I don’t have money for a cab,” Smith said. “I’m a college student.”

Huff said it’s not unusual for the bus to pick up students walking around, especially in the downtown area. He said he’s glad they had already decided not to drink and drive, but they could still get in trouble for alcohol intoxication in a public place.
Donnie Wilson of Bowling Green is a volunteer driver for South Side Sober Ride. He is also a nontraditional student at WKU. Earlier in the semester, Wilson said, he walked into his astronomy class of about 200 students and saw most of the students’ eyes widen when they recognized who he was.
“What happens on the bus, stays on the bus,” Wilson reminded a crowd of about 30 college students riding the bus Friday night.

Although riders enjoy themselves on the way home or to a party by talking to others around them or dancing in their seats to the music, there are a few rules posted on the bus door. No fighting, smoking or beverages are allowed.
About 10:30 p.m. Friday, a large group of young women staying in a house on Chestnut Street tried to get on the bus, each of them with a soft drink bottle in their hands. Huff stopped them at the door and told them they would have to leave the bottles behind.

Four of the women threw their bottles in a nearby trash can, while the majority of the women went back inside the house. While he hoped they wouldn’t choose to try to drive to their destination unsafely, Huff said the bus had to move on and couldn’t wait for them to make a decision. There were other people counting on South Side Sober Ride to pick them up.
Even in their inebriated states as the evening wore on, the riders understood what a hazard they could potentially be to themselves or others if they were behind the wheel, especially in the rainy conditions Friday night.
“If I’m (expletive) up,” one college student said loudly, I could hurt someone while driving.
If it wasn’t for the Sober Bus, people would get in trouble, another student slurred to the other passengers.

Michael Gonzalez, a WKU freshman from Franklin, Tenn., said South Side Sober Ride means more to him than just a free ride to a party. “I’ve seen too many people hurt from drunk driving that are close to me,” Gonzalez said. “Sober Ride is a responsible way to drive people who are intoxicated.”

There are some people in town who have qualms with South Side Sober Ride. Huff said some cab companies in Bowling Green have contacted him and told him that he is taking away their business.
South Side Sober Ride finished its business at 4:30 a.m. Saturday and had transported 504 people.
The cab companies have also said South Side Sober Ride is operating illegally by accepting compensation for its service; therefore, it is an uncertified taxi service, Huff said.

Huff said he pays for everything by himself. He said he bought the bus, insured it and pays for all fuel and repairs out of his own pocket. Some people, however, give Wilson tips if they want to. From the 504 riders on Friday night and Saturday morning, Wilson received $26 in tips, according to a Saturday morning text message from Huff.

According to Kentucky Revised Statute 281.615, “No person shall act as a motor carrier without first having obtained a certificate or permit, as the case may be, from the department.”
Ryan Watts, spokeman for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, said exemptions to KRS 281 include religious and nonprofit organizations.
“We can’t make the assumption whether or not (Huff is) for-profit,” Watts said Thursday in a phone interview. “Currently, he is not authorized with our Division of Motor Carriers to operate.”

Watts said the Transportation Cabinet sent Huff a letter on Aug. 22 informing him that he is not authorized to transport passengers and is “allegedly operating an illegal taxi in Bowling Green ... without the proper authority or insurance.” Attached to the letter was an application for “operating authority to transport passengers for compensation within Kentucky.”

Officer Ronnie Ward, spokesman for the Bowling Green Police Department, said it’s good when any person makes the decision to not drink and drive. Ward produced statistics of DUIs from May to August 2012 and May to August 2013, right after Huff started South Side Sober Ride. During those months in 2012, there were 178 DUIs. During those months in 2013, there were 141.
“It’s hard to keep up with exactly what makes the difference in DUIs every month, because it depends on how much time our officers have to locate, stop, test and incarcerate a person who is under the influence, versus calls for service the citizens of Bowling Green depend on us for,” Ward said.
Whatever affects DUI offenses, passengers on the Sober Bus like B.J. Bishop Jr. of Bowling Green believe the bus to be saving lives.

“Safest (transportation) in town ... scout’s honor and pinkie swear,” Bishop said after being picked up from the Ramada Inn on Saturday morning. “I know if I get on the bus, I’ll get home safe.”
Huff said his passengers feeling safe is his reward.
“God’s blessed me, and I just want to do something unselfish and make a difference,” Huff said.



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