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When UK students talk about radar, they’re not talking about a weather instrument or a gun police use to catch speeding drivers. “Radar” is a man with a bus.
However, Radar, or Steve Rader, is more than a taxi driver.
He helps kids who’ve been drinking, said John Michael Carter, a first-year law student. He said he gets them back safely.
“You can fit all your friends (in the bus), you don’t have to take four different cabs,” said Shauna Sheehy, an undeclared sophomore.
“He’s the most legit ride with the most seats,” said Craig Terry, a marketing junior.
Radar honestly, genuinely cares about students from the university, said Brent Buchanan, an accounting and finance junior. He’s all about them.
So who is Radar? A 44-year-old baby sitter for pets by day who shuttles students by night.
“I just do the best I can,” Rader said.
Rader graduated from UK in 1990 at age 25. He worked as a sales representative in Lexington until 1999 when the business where he was working closed their Kentucky offices. Rader decided he didn’t want to move out of the state, so he stayed in Lexington.
Then, more than five years ago, a friend suggested Rader start a company that could transport a large group of people to and from different places in Lexington. The two decided to call it Kentuckians Against Drunk Driving, motivated by Radar’s family history.
“My two brothers almost died driving drunk a long time ago from two different accidents,” Rader said. “They’re both fine now, but without luck or the grace of God, they’d both be dead.”
Rader couldn’t just start picking people up, however. He had to jump through legal hoops to get certified.
The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government first said he couldn’t start the business, so Rader paid an attorney his life savings to research transportation laws. Rader was eventually issued a certificate of authority to operate a non-profit bus service, which allowed him to legally pick up anyone in Fayette and surrounding counties.
When the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet finally approved him, Rader started his business by driving to bars and yelling “Free ride!” through his window. No questions were asked and Radar’s business boomed.
“I’m honest and ethical, but (students) didn’t know that,” Rader said. “I told people, ‘Hey, I just started, so there’s no fare. The main thing is you keep my phone number and call me when you need a ride.’”
Rader said he used to reset his van’s tripmeter to show students what they would have paid in a taxicab versus his dollar-per-passenger charge. However, Rader said he’s not in the transportation business to make a profit.
All this money goes to van payment and gas, insurance and phone bills, Rader said. ”The point is that I started the company to get people safely home; it’s not about the money.”
Rader makes his living by caring for people’s pets during the week while they are at work or on vacation, he said. However, Rader said on a Keeneland weekend, he can easily bring in $1,500 from his bus service.
Radar was a name given to him by Rick Pitino in the early ’90s when Pitino’s fraternity brother lived with Rader. Pitino pronounced Steve’s surname as “Radah,” which in turn became the student-household name, “Radar.”
Rader said at any given point on a weekend night, his phone’s call log could have almost 20 different numbers calling him at once.
“I thought, when you come to UK, you meet Radar,” said Roger Wilkerson, a kinesiology and health promotion senior. “You can hang out with someone you’ve never hung out with before and you could ask, ‘How are we getting somewhere?’ and you’ll say, ‘Radar.’”
Rader’s passengers said they keep calling him for rides because he’s reliable and cheap. With the amount of students who keep Radar’s number on speed dial, however, it is impossible for him to cater to all of his regulars’ transportation needs.
“You want to do it for everybody but you can’t pick up everyone all the time,” Rader said.
He said students will always need to go places, and as long as they do, he’ll be there.
“Since I graduated, it’s sort of like I am giving back,” Rader said. “I went to school here, I love the university.
“It’s awesome. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.”