As of the beginning of the Winter 2020 semester, Students’ Society of McGill University’s (SSMU) DriveSafe has extended its services to the Mohawk territory of Kahnawake, south of the island of Montreal. The initiative, set up in collaboration with SSMU Indigenous Affairs and in consultation with Mohawk students at McGill, allows students to call DriveSafe for a free drive home in the region.
DriveSafe is a student-run volunteer service that offers free rides and shuttles to McGill students between 11 p.m.— 3 a.m. from Thursday to Saturday. Currently, DriveSafe operates in Kahnawake, on the Island of Montreal, and offers shuttles in Longueuil. There are plans to extend services to Laval next year.
DriveSafe President Charles Choi acknowledged that the decision to extend the territory of operation to Kahnawake stemmed in part due to the scant availability of public transport between Montreal and the region.
“Kahnawake [has little] public transport to Montreal, [and] it is very scarce and very difficult to access,” Choi said. “So for McGill students and faculty, we felt that this was the best we could do.”
He added that the extension helps DriveSafe in its mandate to offer a greater equality of service to all its students, irrespective of race or socio-economic status.
“From what I have heard […] from different leaders in our school community [and other] individuals, they have been overwhelmingly supportive and they have been commending SSMU for this extension to Kahnawake, knowing that it is a marginalized community,” Choi said.
SSMU Indigenous Affairs Commissioner Tomas Jirousek believes that students living in Kahnawake will greatly benefit from this development. He noted that Indigenous students now have the possibility to partake in activities downtown later in the day, without the stress of having to plan a safe trip home.
“There isn’t this insecurity wondering ‘Is the metro going to be running?’, ‘Is it too cold to get a taxi?’, [or] ‘Am I going to be able to get home?’” Jirousek said. “And that is something that we can finally offer to our Indigenous students living [in] Kahnawake.”
Jirousek added that although he does not think the extension to Kahnawake will significantly increase the use of DriveSafe, the availability of the service offers students reassurance.
“There aren’t a ton of students who are going to be from Kahnawake in town during those times,” Jirousek said. “But the point is that we can offer this blanket security and […] the same services that non-Indigenous students [enjoy]. We can offer them that same peace of mind.”
Erin Patton (BSc ‘19), a resident of Kahnawake, is pleased with the change, as it will simplify Indigenous students’ itinerary home and will provide a free alternative to an otherwise expensive trip by taxi or Uber.
“It’s a really good initiative,” Patton said. “[Drivesafe] only [covered] the island of Montreal before and it was hard to get home if you were studying late or going out that night. But now that they have [extended it] it is much easier to get home.”
Patton believes that she would have appreciated the extension to Kahnawake if DriveSafe had expanded earlier.
“I was always involved in student life and going out with friends, and doing activities at school, [and] I always found that I had to leave early from things and plan my public transit out or how I was getting home that night,” Patton said. “I would have had more time participating in these things than worrying about getting home.”