2006_07_oraiareid.jpgName: Oraia Reid
Occupation: Co-Founder & Executive Director of Right Rides, which provides free, late-night ride home service to women and members of the LBTQGNC community.

Tell us how you and Consuelo Ruybal decided to start Right Rides. Why the focus on the female and LBTQGNC community?
Consuelo and I started RightRides in August 2004 in direct response to an increase on sexual assaults on women walking home by themselves late at night in Williamsburg and Greenpoint. We were outraged by the attacks in our community; we felt we had to do something about it. I have over a decade of grassroots organizing experience and we were able to mobilize quickly. We first sent a survey to 15 friends to determine their late night commuting habits, their financial situation, how safe they feel taking the subway and walking home, how many taxis they take per month, etc. The survey rapidly circulated and within a week, had generated nearly 100 responses.

The responses reinforced not only a clear demand for a safe ride home, but also that women and especially those in the LBTGNC communities have less money to spend on a “luxury” such as a taxi or car service. The NYC Public Advocate has reported that the annual median income for NYC women is nearly $4,500 less than their equally qualified male counterparts. Studies show the LBTGNC community earns 5-14% less money than heterosexual women due to bias. Lack of funds mean many must choose instead to take public transportation and/or walk home – oftentimes through unsafe, desolate or poorly lit areas, thus increasing their risk of being targeted for assault. We adopted the motto, “it shouldn’t be a luxury to get home safely” and using our own car, we started driving riders home in September 2004.

A free ride home late at night matters now more than ever, as current NYPD statistics report that sexual assault has increased in many of the areas we serve – in Williamsburg alone, reports of rape have increased by 55.5% (14 rapes in 2006 vs. 9 in 2005). A 2005 New York Times analysis of four years of hate-crime data revealed that, for the greatest proportion of crimes involving a physical assault, 38 percent targeted the LGBTQ community.

More than just a free ride home for women, transpeople and gender queer individuals, our organization also encourages everyone to take their personal safety seriously. We organize educational and awareness opportunities for the greater public in our related programs and via collaborations with similar non profits.

How has the reaction been - from your riders, the NYPD, local government?
The reaction to RightRides has been incredibly positive. Riders have told us that we’re making a direct difference in their lives and personally, I feel this is the highest compliment anyone can pay you. It’s really exciting to be able to provide this service while fostering increased safety awareness within NYC.

We have great relationships with the NYPD and local government; they are very supportive of a citizen’s movement to reduce the risk of assault. We’ve been honored with several civic awards for our grassroots efforts: the NYC Mayor’s office issued a rare Proclamation, “RightRides for Women’s Safety Day” on December 12, 2005; the NYC Chapter of the National Organization for Women recently honored RightRides with the Susan B Anthony award and NYC Council Member Diana Reyna awarded us the annual Pacesetter Award.

We’re also thankful for the many individual donations that we’ve received – the $10 and $20 donations really do add up and help keep RightRides running! Plus we received non profit status last December and we’re starting to see financial support from foundations and even government grants.

How difficult is it to find volunteers for Right Rides? And ZipCar is now donating three cars to the program - how is that working out?
In 2004-2005 we drove 200 riders safely home by organizing volunteers owning their own cars. This operational model became increasingly difficult to sustain due to limited number of available volunteers owning reliable cars. It became overwhelming for Consuelo and I, as we found ourselves driving RightRides pretty much every Saturday night. We put the service on hold late last year to focus on getting a fleet of cars for volunteers to drive.

In May we entered into an agreement with Zipcar. They donate 3 cars every Saturday night and RightRides pays for our volunteer’s Zipcar membership. Working with Zipcar has been wonderful: Zipcar has enabled RightRides to resume operations (as of June 3rd ) and to also expand from just 4 neighborhoods in 2004-2005, to 19 neighborhoods in 2006. We’re finding increased volunteer interest now; as many who want to help operate RightRides are qualified drivers yet do not personally own a car. Plus Zipcars are fun to drive and I’m thrilled RightRides has joined forces with such a progressive company.

Volunteer driving teams are teams of two: a Driver and a Navigator and we make sure that one member of this team is (or identifies as) female for the comfort of our riders. We operate RightRides every Saturday night from Midnight – 3 AM (early Sunday morning) and ask volunteers to sign up every 4 weeks for a shift. We have incentives for our most active volunteers: not only do they get a free Zipcar membership, but we’ve arranged for complimentary Zipcar hours good for their own personal use.

It’s really gratifying volunteering for RightRides: helping make communities safer by taking immediate action to reduce the risk of hate crimes and sexual assault in NYC.

What neighborhoos do you hope to expand to this/next year?
We’ve recently expanded the service area and are offering pick ups and drop offs within the following neighborhoods:

Brooklyn: Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Bushwick, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights, Crown Heights, Downtown Brooklyn, Boerum Hill, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Park Slope, Gowanus Canal, Red Hook
Manhattan: East Village, Lower East Side, Chinatown
Queens: Long Island City (36th Avenue at the north to Queens Plaza East/31st and 28th Street at the east)

With increased volunteer interest and donations RightRides can foster expansion efforts into the surrounding neighborhoods that we’re currently serving.

We’ve also had quite a few requests for service in Harlem, the Bronx and additional areas in Queens. We’re focusing on starting chapters in these areas, as there needs to be local leaders with community ties enabling them to conduct outreach seeking riders and volunteers, hold orientations and fundraising events, etc. – and because we’ve spent the last 18 months laying the operational groundwork, it would be fairly easy for a team of 6-10 dedicated volunteers per area to bring RightRides to these communities.

And you're starting a program called, Safe Walk this year. How will that work?
Our organization will be launching the Safe Walk program in the coming weeks for anyone who feels they need a safe escort to their destination. It’s a familiar concept that we’re putting our own community-minded spin on. We’re establishing a separate dispatch number for the Safe Walk program and we’re now organizing Bike Patrol volunteers – teams of two or more owning their own bicycles, wearing dedicated Patrol vests who will safely escort callers by walking them to their destination.

A Team Leader will take the incoming call for a Safe Walk, the team will bike to the caller, then the group will walk callers to their destination. Teams will cover approximately a 10-15 block service area, for efficiency. In a large neighborhood like Williamsburg, we could need 3-5 teams!

The Safe Walk program will have no restrictions about who can call for a safe escort. Plus, it’s a great way to get involved with a group of friends (or we can help pair Patrols up) to help make our communities safer. There are currently teams forming in Williamsburg/Greenpoint, Park Slope, Boerum Hill/Carroll Gardens, and Bushwick/Bedford-Stuyvesant. We encourage people to join a team or start one in their neighborhood!

We will offer the Safe Walk program during the warmer months from April – October and we’ll officially be announcing this, plus the service neighborhoods and times very soon. Please visit www.rightrides.org for more details!

And some questions about NYC:
What's your favorite park?
Prospect Park, especially in the Fall

What are the best/worst neighborhood gentrification trends?
Best: 24 hour delis. I’ve gotten to know the owners of the closest 24 hour deli in my neighborhood. If I ever felt unsafe as I make my way home, I know I could go there and they’d watch out for me.

Worst: Lower income and minority peoples being pushed out of their communities for big development. How many million-dollar plus condos does NYC need and these developers think they can sell? If I wasn’t dedicated to reducing the risk of sexual assault in our communities, I’d be working on making sure truly affordable housing and cultural diversity doesn’t get eradicated from this city.

What the best place to daydream?
Brooklyn Botanical Gardens

How do you know it's summer in the city?
When the subway platforms are more hot and humid than it is on the street

What's your favorite building in the city?>
The American Standard (Radiator) Building

For more information about Right Rides, visit the Right Rides website. There's information about free rides, SafeWalk, and volunteering.