Safe rides for you -- and your car

  • Article by: BILL WARD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 2, 2009 - 7:53 AM

Twin Citians who go out and "overcelebrate" now have options to get them and their vehicles home safely.

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Brian Peters and Bob Janisch co-own Drink and Drive Intelligently, which gets tipsy patrons home, with their cars.

Photo: Jennifer Simonson, Star Tribune

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It's often the last worst excuse for a drunk to get behind the wheel: "I've got to get my car home."

Now three Twin Cities businesses are making the practice of driving drunk even dumber than ever.

"Catching drunk drivers on the road is a reactive thing," said the operator of one of them, Adam Mahmud. "What we're doing is proactive."

Mahmud's ReliaDrive, Scott Judd's DWI Ride Home and Brian Peters' Drink and Drive Intelligently "double up" when getting folks home from bars, parties, casinos and weddings: One person drives the customer home in his or her vehicle, while another follows in a "retrieval car." The next morning, the reveler's car is in the driveway rather than in front of some bar (or towed because of an ensuing snow emergency).

The fees fall somewhere between those of a taxicab and a limo -- but far short of a drunken-driving arrest, which can cost $5,000 to $18,000 in fines and fees, plus transportation expenses when one's license goes away for a while.

ReliaDrive works solely with hosts and eventholders, with packages starting at $300. DWI Ride Home charges a $15 pickup fee and $2.50 per mile, or $50 per hour for multiple stops. Drink and Drive Intelligently (DDI) has a $30 minimum fee for the first 5 miles and $3 per additional mile.

Sometimes they'll even go "the extra mile."

"We had one instance where a younger woman was with her sister out drinking on one of those islands off Hudson [Wis.]," said DDI's Peters. "She took a shuttle boat and didn't realize until she got to us that her sister was still out there, with no way to get her back. So one of my drivers swam out there and got her on the shuttle boat.

"We've also shuttled people's dogs home with them."

While the animals (presumably) are sober, Peters said their human companions are rarely blotto.

"We don't see a lot of overly intoxicated people," he said. "The ones who use our service tend to be more responsible."

They're at least responsible enough not to want to become a statistic, and a daunting one at that. According to the Department of Public Safety, one of every eight Minnesota drivers has been arrested for DWI, and there are an average of 115 drunken-driving arrests daily.

Customers are often very grateful, too: One of Peters' customers once handed out a $500 tip on a $50 ride.

Stepped-up enforcement

The state is amid a monthlong stepped-up DWI enforcement campaign, offering "Designated Driver Gift Cards" at venues around town and at www.minnesotasafe andsober.org. But spokesman Nathan Bowie said the department welcomes all alternatives to tipsy people operating motorized vehicles.

"We stress that if you plan on partying, always plan for a safe and sober ride, and these companies provide a creative way to help people have that option," Bowie said. "From our standpoint, anytime someone uses an alternative, whether it's one of these services or crashing at someone's house, that's a positive."

The DWI arrest average has risen since the state dropped the legal limit from a 0.10 percent blood-alcohol level to 0.08 on Aug. 1, 2005 -- the day Peters and friends started their business.

Judd and Mahmud subsequently opened up shop, the latter just after getting a degree in entrepreneurship from the University of St. Thomas -- where ReliaDrive still has an office.

"There haven't been any issues from the administration," Mahmud said "The reason is, take a look at our name. We don't think we promote drinking, but rather take a proactive response to it.

Still, after a year of offering the service to the general public, Mahmud decided last summer to focus exclusively on private events, primarily company parties and weddings.

"Very early on, it was easy to see how there were many operational issues with the original model, especially the unpredictability and spontaneity [of customer calls]," he said. "Some nights we'd have more calls than we could service and other nights not enough calls for the people we had on hand."

Call ahead to be sure

While DDI and DWI Ride Home accept last-minute calls, they vastly prefer advance reservations by phone or online (see box).

DDI covers a wide area, about 25 miles beyond the Interstate 494/694 perimeter. In the northern suburbs, there's enough of a need for this type of ride that Andover-based DWI Ride Home has been joined by a more traditional service, RideSafe, run by former banker Martin Schindel in Ramsey.

 RideSafe caters to larger groups with its seven- and 12-seat vans and came about because "it's hard enough to get a cab up in this area, let alone get a large group of people," Schindel said. "We [and DWI Ride Home] do bump into each other, and frankly there's plenty of business for all of us. Scott will occasionally call us, and I'll call him if I have someone who needs to get their car home.

"And the worse the economy gets, the better my business gets," he added. "Sad but true."

That's a refrain that the more traditional driving services know all too well.

"At our company, if you can't handle somebody who has been drinking, you need to look for another job," said Fred Anderson, finance manager of Rainbow Taxi Corp. "It's a fairly significant percentage of your clientele."

Bill Ward • 612-673-7643

  • A REAL PICK-ME-UP

    These services will take customers home in their own cars:

    DWI Ride Home, 1-877-394-4567, www.dwiridehome.com.
    Drink and Drive Intelligently 651-338-1425, www.youdrinkwedrive.org.
    ReliaDrive, 1-888-735-4201, www.reliadrive.com (private events only, hired by host or sponsor).

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