‘Tis the season for overindulgence and with it comes a responsibility to keep our roads safe and sober. Luckily, Kanabec County has a Safe Cab program ready to deliver home anyone who has had a bit too much to drink at the local bar.
The Safe Cab program started in Isanti County in 2006 and according to Bob Bollenbeck it started out really slowly. “The first month we gave three rides to maybe eight people, but as it kind of got more ingrained into the local culture it has really taken off. Now we’ve given over 10,000 rides to some 18,000 people,” Bollenbeck said.
Once it was developed in Isanti County the program decided to organize itself as a nonprofit called Minnesota Safe Ride. Bollenbeck is part of its board of directors, which advocates and promotes Safe Cab programs working within Kanabec and neighboring counties like Pine, Mille Lacs and Sherburne. Safe Cab has now been around in Kanabec County for over four years; during the last two years, the program has provided about 350 rides home for patrons who should not be driving.
The program operates on weekends year round, and its success (just like in Isanti County) is largely the result of a cost split. Three beer distributors: Bernick’s (Miller), Dahlheimer (Coors) and McDonald (Budweiser), as well as the Crystal Bar & Grill of Mora share in the cost of each safe ride. Local service is then provided by Attaboys’ Taxi.
A voucher system covers the first $15 of fare, which is usually most of the cost. Anything over $15 is covered by the patrons themselves. Attaboys’ then generates a split bill, with each promoter paying an equal share of the ride. There has been discussion of going down to $10 of coverage to help extend the program’s funding.
The Crystal is the bar that most frequently uses the program and its servers all know how to get a hold of Attaboys’ Taxi. They simply fill out a voucher form and the patron gets a free ride home, and only home, up to $15.
“It’s not meant to drive you anywhere else. You’ve had too much. You shouldn’t be on the road. We’re going to take you home,” said Bollenbeck. Patrons leave their cars behind, “but that’s a lot better to do than risk getting a DUI which will cost thousands upon thousands of dollars.”
Bollenbeck urges patrons to ask their server or bartender about the program. “If you’re sitting there wondering if you’ve had too much to drink, you’ve had too much to drink,” he said. There is also incentive for the bar, with there being huge liability for the bar if one of their customers gets a DUI or in a crash. “If someone gets pinched, it’s a bad deal for everybody involved. Insurance rates go up and all sorts of fines can go to the server and even the bar itself,” Bollenbeck said.
Bollenbeck feels patrons have been receptive to the program. While the Crystal takes the brunt of the service, other bars throughout the county also use the program. “People are using it. The whole notion is to make it affordable,” Bollenbeck said, “but the program operates, frankly, on a lot of donations and the good will of the beer distributors.”
The program could be even more self-sustaining, according to Bollenbeck, if organizations that sell pull tabs would contribute a portion of that money by making a charitable donation to MN Safe Ride. That money is then earmarked specifically for Kanabec County. “If the proceeds of one box of pull tabs were donated, it would cover the cost of rides for the year,” said Bollenbeck.
There is always a need to have additional fundraising going on to make the program more viable. “It’s a good thing for customers, and we keep the roads safe,” said Bollenbeck, giving credit to Kanabec County Safe Roads Coalition for its advocacy and support. Individual donations are welcome and can be made online at: https://www.givemn.org/organization/Minnesota-Safe-Ride.
Jake Mathison is a contributing writer for the Kanabec County Times.
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