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Cab driver Ramy Renor, shown in a July 2007 file photo, provides student transportation as part of the SAFEride service.

A program that provides free cab rides for stranded UW-Madison students will be cut back significantly next month because of cost overruns and misuse, a student leader said.

Designed for late night, emergency situations, the SAFEride cab service currently allows students to take four free taxi rides per month — the equivalent of about 16 rides per semester. But beginning Jan. 2, students will only be able to take six rides per semester.

SAFE stands for Safe Arrival for Everyone.

The program, which is funded through student fees, ran over its budget by almost 50 percent last year, said Michael Romenesko, a member of a student-led transportation committee.

He said people are abusing the program, using it as their own personal cab service rather than as a backup in emergency situations, the purpose for which it was designed.

“Say you know you’re going to be at a (study session) until late. For your convenience, you shouldn’t necessarily turn to SAFEride,” he said. “You should pay for a taxi.”

For fiscal 2009, which ended in June, students had budgeted about $100,000 for the program, but spent about $150,000 on it.

The program gave 18,381 rides last year. About 150 students used the service so frequently that they would max out at the new limit of six rides per semester, Romenesko said.

But some students said they are concerned about the decrease in services.

Megan Leahy, who graduated this month, said she relies on the free program “definitely more than six” times per semester.

Because she lives on the East Side, Leahy said she uses it when she’s coming home from the library or from a late night out. She said she tries not to put herself in situations where she feels unsafe but has called SAFEride when she feels uncomfortable.

SAFEride cab is a sister program with two others: SAFEwalk and SAFEride bus. From 7 p.m. to 1 a.m., two-person teams are available to escort students on foot. SAFEride bus, which makes routes around campus, runs from 6:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. on weeknights.

SAFEride cab is meant to pick up where the other two services leave off.

This is not the first time the program has been cut back. In 2003, the ride allotment for students decreased from eight per semester to six, Romenesko said, also because of cost concerns.

Union Cab partners with the university to run the program. John McNamara, accounts manager, said the service is important as a safety mechanism, especially for students who study or work late on campus.

“I think it’s one of the reasons students and parents consider Wisconsin as a university,” he said.

But he said he understands that it’s a “balancing act” for the university.

“The university has always really tried to focus on it being a violence prevention program, but how much of that really turns into a free cab service?” McNamara asked.

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