Tipsy Taxi to close Sept. 30 |

Tipsy Taxi to close Sept. 30

FRISCO – Tipsy Taxi, a victim of capitalism at its best, will take its last intoxicated would-be-driver home Sept. 30.

“That would be our ultimate goal – to be out of a job,” said Bev Gmerek of the Summit Prevention Alliance (SPA) at a Tipsy Taxi meeting Monday. “It’s a good thing.”

The taxi service, founded to keep intoxicated people off the road by giving them a free ride home, has been in service for five years. The program, however, was abused by some people when it was free, so in late 2000, the Tipsy Taxi board began charging riders $10. If they didn’t have the money, they could ask for a voucher from a participating bar or restaurant – which bought them from SPA – to get a free ride home.

Since its inception, Tipsy Taxi drivers have taken home thousands of people who felt they’d imbibed too much and shouldn’t get behind the wheel of a car.

The service is funded by the town of Breckenridge and grants obtained by SPA. Bars and restaurants are issued vouchers they can give to intoxicated patrons to use the taxi service.

“This was meant to be a last-resort scenario,” Gmerek said. “It’s for people who are out of money, for whom the bus isn’t a viable option, for people whose designated driver has started drinking. This is an opportunity to get people home safely.”

That service – and the privately owned Rainbow Taxi – serve only the Upper Blue Valley, however, leaving bars and restaurants in Keystone, Dillon, Silverthorne and Frisco without an alternative ride program. The Summit Stage began to fill some of that need this spring, when it began offering late-night service.

Since John “Oz” Osborne and Bob Chestnut opened Summit Taxi in June, Tipsy Taxi’s ridership numbers have plummeted 54 percent. During the first week of this month alone, Summit Taxi has taken home anywhere from seven to 36 people a night; Tipsy Taxi averaged three. Before Summit Taxi debuted, Tipsy Taxi took home an average of 15 people each night.

“Our numbers are down substantially,” Gmerek said. “And it’s because Oz is out there working the streets. We feel we can redirect our funds to something more productive.”

Gmerek spoke last week with members of the Breckenridge Restaurant Association, who were instrumental in starting Tipsy Taxi and have agreed to discontinue the service Sept. 30. Gmerek said she feels the few riders Tipsy Taxi has had in recent months easily can be absorbed by Summit Taxi.

“He has 98 percent of our riders right now,” she said.

Summit Taxi is a metered taxi service, operating the same way taxis do in cities. SPA will continue Tipsy Taxi’s voucher program with Summit and Rainbow taxies. SPA officials propose issuing each liquor license holder five free vouchers per quarter; they can purchase more for $10 apiece, SPA officials decided Monday. SPA will make up the difference in the actual cost of the ride and the cost of the voucher.

Restaurant and bar owners and their staff, however, will be encouraged to direct people to find an alternative way to get home, be it a designated driver, a bus or taxi ride.

“Tipsy Taxi was never intended to be an economical way to get home,” Gmerek said. “It was intended to be cheaper than the cost of a DUI.”

By letting the service fall to the private sector, the Tipsy Taxi budget will be cut in half, Gmerek said. The remaining funds will be used to fund the voucher program. Osborne’s typical fare is about $17, he said. If five free vouchers are distributed to each of the 145 liquor-license holders in the county each quarter, the cost to subsidize the voucher program would total $49,300 a year – less than half of Tipsy Taxi’s annual budget. Other efforts will include advertising in bars to encourage intoxicated people to find alternatives to driving themselves home.

“If I go to Chicago or Philadelphia, there is no Tipsy Taxi,” said Gini Bradley, who facilitated discussion at the SPA meeting Monday. “You take a cab. They promote cab service – period.”

Riders will be allowed to use the vouchers only to go home, not from bar to bar. Bartenders will be the ones to determine who gets a voucher and who merely will be encouraged to call a cab.

“It’ll be a huge learning curve,” Gmerek said. “We don’t know how it’ll work until we put it on the streets.”

The program will be evaluated at the end of December and again at the end of March to determine if extra voucher prices are fair and how well the program is working.

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