SoberRide may not be available July 4

By Ashley Halsey III
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The lexicon of the tippler is rich with colorful language for over-imbibing: stinko, soused, smashed, plastered, sloshed, hammered, wasted, trashed, blotto, three sheets to the wind and (although it's losing currency) Boris Yeltsined.

On the police report after a car accident the verbiage is, well, more sobering: under the influence, intoxicated, under arrest and sometimes DOA (dead on arrival).

The region's leading program that attempts to separate those experiencing a description on the first list from those on the second list is in jeopardy, with one of the heaviest drinking holidays of the year just two weeks away.

SoberRide, a 17-year program of the Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WRAP), swings into operation on St. Patrick's Day, July 4, Halloween and during the Christmas-New Year's period to offer free taxi rides home for people who have been drinking.

The service is free to the rider, provided the ride is less than 50 miles, but the cabdriver gets paid by WRAP, and the economic turmoil of the past two years has forced the private supporters of the program to curtail their contributions. It costs between $60,000 and $70,000 a year to pay for those rides.

The irony is that SoberRide has never been more popular with people who feel taking a cab is more prudent than sliding behind the wheel when intoxicated. The era when drunkenness and drunk driving were thought comical or excusable has long passed.

"Many people think that SoberRide is just big-hearted cabdrivers giving people a lift," said Kurt Erickon, president of the McLean-based organization. "In fact, it's corporate support that pays for it. I don't want to single anyone out, but the funding has been less because of the economic downturn. We have a $31,000 gap between revenues and the cost of cab fares."

If that $31,000 can't be found, the program won't be offered over the July 4 holiday, a time when tens of thousands of people flock to downtown D.C. and other locales for fireworks and picnics.

"There's a great possibility we won't be there," Erickson said.

Normally, two weeks before a holiday weekend, bars and restaurants throughout the region display SoberRide posters providing patrons with the number to call if they feel the need for a ride. This year, none have been printed for July 4.

Erickson said the number of people opting for the free ride home during the four holiday periods increased by 60 percent last year, totaling 4,427.

"We're doing gangbusters on SoberRide; now we just need to find a way to pay for it," he said. "We're asking everybody and anybody to help us close this gap."

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