There are no taxis to take home from the bar in little Spicer, Minn., a city of 1,150.
“In rural areas, it’s a lot different,” said Michelle Olson, owner of Johnny O’Neil’s Green Lake Social, a restaurant and bar about 100 miles west of Minneapolis. “We don’t have a taxi system here in Spicer or New London. So the options are few.”
The area will soon get a new one. Starting Friday, a late-night bus will bring Kandiyohi County bar patrons to their homes near Willmar, Spicer and New London. The program, called Joyride, is meant to reduce cases of drunken driving and the crashes they cause. In 2012, there were 240 cases of drunken driving in Kandiyohi County, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. That year, four people died in alcohol-related collisions.
“How do we keep these crashes from occurring in the first place?” asked Stephanie Felt, coordinator for the Kandiyohi County Safe Community Coalition, a group that includes law enforcement.
Rural counties across the state are starting similar, sober-cab services — funded partly by participating bars — thanks to a pilot project. The Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety, which offers a tool kit to starting a Joyride program, will assess ridership this fall, said Jody Oscarson, its driving coordinator.
Otter Tail County began Joyride last year partly to promote tourism by offering “fun, alternative and safe options to drinking and driving.” The bus service, which operates in Battle Lake, Ottertail and Perham, provided more than 450 safe rides from Memorial Day to Labor Day. This year, the bus stops at a few more bars and restaurants.
Each county does Joyride a little differently, Oscarson said. Otter Tail County’s private bus runs each weekend during the summer. Wabasha County uses public buses for special events. Douglas County offers taxis.
In Kandiyohi County, the bus will run Fridays and Saturdays through Labor Day, plus an extra Thursday for the street dance in Spicer. At closing time, the bus will pick up folks at five bars, including the VFW in Willmar, then bring them to their homes. A ride is $7.
“You don’t necessarily need to be impaired to buy a ticket,” Felt noted.
The name Joyride is meant to sound a bit more fun than “sober cab,” Felt said. That’s partly to attract a key demographic: men in their 20s and 30s.
“Hopefully people use it,” Olson said.