SoberRide expects to reach milestone over holidays

By Kafia A. Hosh
Wednesday, December 15, 2010

SoberRide, a program that provides free cab rides for inebriated people during holidays, is poised to reach a milestone this year when it gives a lift to its 50,000th person.

To date, SoberRide has provided free cab service to 49,188 Washington area residents. The program operates on St. Patrick's Day, Independence Day and Halloween and during the Christmas and New Year's season.

The service, launched in 1993, is provided by the Washington Regional Alcohol Program , a McLean-based organization that promotes awareness of alcohol's dangers.

"We do this during these high-risk, high-consumption holidays," said Kurt Erickson, the regional program's president and chief executive officer.

"You still need to have some safety valve to those periods," he said.

Beginning Friday and ending New Year's Day, free rides will be offered every day from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. The cab fare must be $30 or less, and passengers must be at least 21 years old to use the service.

Erickson said that most of the time, servers or bartenders place the call requesting a cab for customers who have been drinking.

SoberRide contracts with nine area cab companies, which it pays to provide the rides. The program spends about $70,000 a year on cab fare and is mostly funded by corporate sponsors.

This year, the company struggled with funding for the Fourth of July cab service and a $31,000 budget gap. Erickson said that most people had forgotten that the bill for all those rides falls to the three-employee charitable group.

"I think this program has become so institutionalized that . . . people thought it would always be around," he said.

At the last minute, donors including MillerCoors and Geico infused the program with cash, allowing service to continue on Independence Day.

The program took measures to tighten its belt, reducing the maximum cab fare from $50 to $30, which could save about $16,000 annually, Erickson said. SoberRide postponed the start of service for the holiday season this year by one week, which will eliminate about 900 cab rides, he added.

It also gained new corporate sponsors, including Volkswagen of America.

Red Top Cab in Arlington County provides and staffs the communication center that dispatches the cabs, assistance that Erickson said is worth $49,000 annually.

Similar programs are held in other parts of the country, including Tipsy Taxi in Austin and Baltimore.

Revelers can reach SoberRide at 800-200-TAXI.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company