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Behind the wheel: A Gopher Chauffeur driver’s experience

Drivers share their passion for their job which ensures student safety on campus.
Image by Shalom Berhane
Gopher Chauffer on 4th St. Jan. 22, 2024. Gopher Chauffeur drivers give up their time to keep students safe.

Gopher Chauffeur, a student-staffed safe-ride-home program for all University of Minnesota students, promotes campus safety by providing free rides. 

Students looking for a ride can call a Gopher Chauffeur both on and near campus through the Transloc mobile app. 

Val Lopez, a second-year student at the University, said she vividly remembers why she wanted to become a driver for Gopher Chauffeur.

As a freshman, Lopez said she came to the University from out of state and felt lonely. She wanted to become a part of something bigger on campus to have the opportunity to make friends.

“I remember it was freshman year at Welcome Week, they were tabling, and they were like, ‘Apply for Gopher Chauffeur if you want to make friends,’” Lopez said.

Lopez added she loves people and enjoys driving, so she saw Gopher Chauffeur as a great opportunity and took it. 

“I think it is really fun to just interact with the people we pick up and also with my partner,” Lopez said. “It’s fun when we play party music, and everyone is having a good time.” 

Tristan Cady, another student driver and team lead, said a typical night for drivers starts at Boynton Health, where drivers get to know each other, do some icebreakers and talk about what to expect for the night. 

“From there, we just go down to the parking ramp where we pick up our vans, and then we start picking people up,” Cady said. “When we are finished, we finish all the rides before we actually head home.”

Cady said a driver’s main priority is to pick people up, drop them off and make sure they get from wherever they start to wherever they are going safely.

“If there’s any sort of incident where they might be heavily intoxicated to the point where they can’t walk, we make sure to navigate that and make sure they are safe,” Cady said. 

Cady added there is no set end point for when drivers go home, but drivers stop accepting rides around 12:30 a.m. on most weeknights and 1:30 a.m. on Saturdays. 

“Typically, there are two people in the car, so we switch off about halfway through our shifts so the driver does not get too tired and the passenger can take over,” Cady said.

Cady added that his favorite part of the job is meeting different people, interacting with them and hearing the different stories they share.

“People talk a lot, they’re friendly, and that’s the thing I enjoy most is when I’m talking to passengers, just getting to know and interact with them,” Cady said. 

Lopez said one of her favorite parts of the job is playing music with the passengers.

“One time, we picked up some girls, and they were like, ‘Can you play Taylor Swift, “Picture to Burn,”’ and I was like, ‘Absolutely,’” Lopez said. “And we just played ‘Picture to Burn’ all the way to their location, full blast, and it was so fun.” 

Noah DeVlaminck, another student driver, said the job can take a toll on academics, so he has to find a balance.

“Throughout the week, I work quite often,” DeVlaminck said. “I usually take a lot of naps after and between classes.”

DeVlaminck added he uses Google Calendar to space out his time and mark out when he has availability. 

“It’s just a really, really fun job, and for me, it’s pretty easy when you’re just driving around, ” DeVlaminck said. “It’s fun to just listen to music with the passengers.”

Lopez said the drivers are constantly working behind the scenes and helping people get home. She added it makes her happy to make sure everyone is getting to their destination safely.

“I like to call us the unsung heroes,” Lopez said. 

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