Official speaks in Austin about plan to offer sober rides

Published 10:06am Wednesday, November 27, 2013

An ongoing conversation about a program that would offer sober rides home in several communities has caught some attention in Austin.

Nancy Franke Wilson, contracted by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, spoke to local leaders at Tuesday’s Safe Communities meeting at the Seibel Center in Austin. Wilson explained how she and Karen Sprattler wrote a toolkit for communities to employ a system of sober rides home by using a pool of funding, which could come from local bars and liquor distributors to buy ride vouchers for people who are too drunk to drive. That’s how a pilot program has been working in Rice County since 2012. Bar and restaurant owners, shuttle companies and local law enforcement, attorneys, colleges and more groups worked together to employ the system by using public transportation already in place. For example, a shuttle company charges $5 for a ride within city limits and only takes a person home. Complimentary vouchers, paid for by the funding pool, would go to the transportation company.

For now, Wilson and Sprattler are generically tagging the program as JOYRIDE, but each community would come up with its own name for the program.

For now, it has only been discussion, and Wilson has been contracted through a DPS grant to work with four communities regarding the program. There is no cost to Mower County’s Safe Communities Coalition.

Mower Safe Communities Coalition Coordinator Amanda Stoa attended Wilson’s breakout session at a Toward Zero Deaths conference and said a similar program could be an asset to Austin and possibly spur the economy. However, the decision may not be up to her and local safety officials.

“Really, I think ultimately it’s going to come down to our county commissioners and judges on board,” Stoa said.

Last year, a bus labeled “The Big Red Ride Home” was tested in Austin. The Austin City Council voted down city funding for the service, and it never continued.

Stoa said Wilson’s JOYRIDE ideas are different because they have to follow specific guidelines listed in the DPS grants.

Austin Police Capt. Dave McKichan attended Tuesday’s meeting but is still neutral on the subject.

“It’s really in it’s infancy,” McKichan said, “but the state made a person available to talk about the program’s flexibility for a local community. From the police department’s perspective: We think it’s interesting to look at; it’s just very early in the process, and I really can’t say if it’s something we would become involved in at this point.”

McKichan added police wouldn’t want to employ such a system if it had a burden on taxpayers.


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