Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Sober Xpress hopes to bring more safe and sober transportation to Amherst

By Morgan Hughes

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(Sober Xpress Official Facebook)

(Sober Xpress Official Facebook)

When Lance Graziano was a freshman at the University of Connecticut, he picked up on something about the streets of the area surrounding the campus on weekends.

“I noticed a ton of people that were just walking in the street and on the side of the road,” Graziano, 22, explained. “These two girls went to the end of the road and asked me to stop and drive them home. I drove them home, they gave me a few bucks for driving them.”

Graziano then decided to go back and forth, figuring that other people would need safe rides home as well.

The simple favor he offered in 2012 spawned the idea for his company, Sober XPress.

Anyone in the community in and around UConn can call the Sober XPress number and request a safe ride home from wherever they are.

Graziano plans to expand Sober XPress to other campuses around the country, starting with the University of Massachusetts and the University of Rhode Island this fall. He hopes the company will expand to be more than just a weekend service, offering rides at any point in any weekday.

The company started with a group of volunteers in an office next to Graziano’s apartment, taking phone calls and coordinating drivers for people in need of a ride on Fridays and Saturdays. The fee used to be per person, but Graziano decided to change it to charge similarly to a taxi service, with fees per mile and per minute. This cost, Graziano notes, will be “something like 60 percent cheaper than a standard taxi service.”

“Our goal is to make a world where college students, especially at universities that are kind of out there (rural), eventually don’t need a car at all to get anywhere,” he said.

Andrew DesRochers, a senior at UMass majoring in business administration, is interested to see how a company like Sober XPress would compete with Uber and Lyft  in the Pioneer Valley.

“I think it is awesome seeing students using business as a vehicle for social change,” DesRochers said. “I’m interested to see how the company plans to reach enough volunteers to meet demand when potential volunteers could just as easily work for a different ride service such as Uber or Lyft where they could make a guaranteed profit for completing the same task.”

Jonny Zackman, a freshman at UMass majoring in middle eastern studies, said he is in favor of a company that values safety so extensively.

“I have not heard of any other car service that directs its goal toward the individual so extensively,” he said.  “The downside to such a business being brought onto campus is exceedingly nothing.”

“Our goal is to keep the community safe,” Graziano noted. Sober XPress tries to keep its prices low and drivers available in order to compete with other rideshare services such as Uber and Lyft.

Sober XPress only hires students as its drivers to keep it “relatable” and maintain “the closeness of the community,” Graziano said. “We’re all a community, so you’ll get drivers who drive people who are in their classes … you’ll have all these connections that people make by the end of the night.”

Students go through a five-step process to be cleared to drive for Sober XPress, including a background check, an interview, a road test, vehicle inspection and practice rides with customers and current drivers.

“It is something you totally need training to do, it’s not something you can just go out and do,” Graziano said.

Graziano said that University officials at UConn support his company and its mission.

“We work closely with the university police department,” he said. “We’re helping them do the job of keeping the streets safe. It’s nice to see those folks get behind us on this.”

Graziano says Sober Xpress is developing a smartphone app that will make it stand out from other rideshare companies, with new features such as being able to schedule a ride up to a week in advance, as well as a “home base” button that takes you home on demand with just one click.

“We have so many ideas and so many features we’re going to be rolling out with. It’s going to be very exciting,” Graziano added.

Morgan Hughes can be reached at [email protected]

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