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national | REPORTS

Whose Streets
The founders of a model Brooklyn ride-home service think safety should be a right, not a privilege

Consuelo Ruybal recalls the summer 2004 attack that spurred her and Oraia Reid into action. “A woman was abducted leaving a bar we frequent, [then] robbed and raped. We knew it could have been one of us, or one of our friends. We had to do something.” Reid, a survivor of sexual assault, told Ruybal she wanted to give every woman who found herself in a dangerous situation a ride home, for free.

Whose Streets?
“Getting home safely shouldn’t be a luxury,” say RightRides co-founders Oraia Reid, 30 (left), and Consuelo Ruybal, 37.

So the life partners founded Right-Rides for Women’s Safety Inc., a late-night transportation service for women and transgender individuals heading home from late-night shifts or evenings out with friends. It would serve Williamsburg and other neighbor-hoods of North Brooklyn, an area that logged almost 17 percent of the 1,498 reported rapes in New York City last year. Many neighborhood women told Reid and Ruybal that they were afraid to walk home from mass transit after work but unable to afford a cab. “Every night these women were risking their safety just to get home,” says Reid.

During RightRides’ first 18 months, Reid and Ruybal ran the service on a shoestring, posting flyers in bars, clubs and subway stations advertising safe rides home. Every Saturday night at midnight, they’d turn on the RightRides dispatch number—their cell phone—and field a stream of calls, far more than they could handle. They used their own SUV to pick up riders.

The organization has now expanded: In 2006, it covered 19 NYC neighborhoods and provided 600 free rides. And Reid and Ruybal are no longer doing all of the driving, as some 90 volunteers work Saturday nights from 11:59 p.m. to 3:00 a.m. in two-person teams. The teams are sent by a dispatcher to pick up riders (whose identities are kept confidential), then drive them to their doors and make sure they get inside safely.

“It’s a powerful experience,” said volunteer Stephanie Joson, 25. “RightRides fosters a community whose No. 1 concern is looking out for other people.”

Crucial to expanding the service has been a partnership with rental-car company Zipcar, which waives its hourly fee for the three cars RightRides uses. Since no money is accepted from riders, the women have held fundraisers and created a website - www.rightrides.org - where supporters can make donations to pay for promotional flyers, phone bills, supplies and insurance.

In addition to its safe-ride service, RightRides has sponsored neighborhood safety meetings and started a summer Safe Walk program to provide bicycle escorts to those walking home. Reid says the organization has “galvanized” the community around issues of personal safety. For its efforts, it has received a proclamation from the New York Mayor’s Office and been honored by the New York City chapter of the National Organization for Women.

Plans are in the works to expand the service into neighborhoods such as Harlem and the South Bronx. And the program is becoming a national model, with calls coming in from Philadelphia, Chicago, Seattle and other cities about founding similar services.