Fond-du-Luth, DTA team up for safer revelryTwin Ports merrymakers looking for a safe way home will have an alternative to cabs and designated drivers on New Year’s Eve.
By: By Steve Kucheraemail@example.com, Superior Telegram
Twin Ports merrymakers looking for a safe way home will have an alternative to cabs and designated drivers on New Year’s Eve.
The Duluth Transit Authority, with funding from Fond-du-Luth Casino, is following the lead of other cities around the country by offering free rides on Dec. 31 and extended New Year’s Eve service.
“We’ve never had the ability to serve the late-night New Year’s celebrators, but with the generosity of the casino we are serving the whole Twin Ports free all day,” DTA marketing director Tom Elwell said. “Virtually every area of town will be covered by the late-night service. No matter where you are, if you are out celebrating New Year’s, this is an opportunity to play it safe and take the bus home.”
The DTA will extend bus service on its busiest routes up to 1:50 a.m. on Jan. 1.
“We have never had such late-night service” in at least 26 years, Elwell said. “On Saturday night, buses are normally done as early as 10:50 at night.”
Underwriting the free and extended service will cost the casino at least $5,000.
“We thought it would be a good way to give back to the community,” said casino marketing manager Tina Nordin. “We hope everyone has a safe and fun New Year’s Eve.”
Duluth police records show that over the last four years, officers have only ticketed two drivers for driving under the influence between 6 p.m. on Dec. 31 and 6 a.m. Jan. 1. During those hours, however, they made 103 traffic stops and issued at least 20 tickets.
“I think it is a great partnership,” Duluth Police Department crash investigator Ryan Morris said. “It is wonderful any time there is another option available for people to have a sober ride.”
Duluth is not the only American city offering free mass transit service on New Year’s Eve. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority has offered free rides from 9 p.m. on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve to 2 a.m. the next day for more than a decade.
“It is a public safety service,” MTA spokesman Marc Littman said. “If it saves one person from being clobbered by a drunk driver, it’s worth it. Unfortunately, we have too many people who get behind the wheel that shouldn’t be behind the wheel at holiday time. We are encouraging them to use our service so they don’t hurt anyone else. ”
According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, there were 2,359 traffic crashes during the five New Year’s holidays from 2004-08, in which 21 people were killed and 51 seriously injured. Alcohol was involved in 198 of the crashes, six of the fatalities and 15 of the serious injuries. Law enforcement officers arrested 1,688 drivers for DWI.
In the Twin Cities, Metro Transit will offer free New Year’s Eve service for the first time this year. Miller Lite and J.J. Taylor Distributing are helping pay for the service, which was announced Tuesday. With the help of Miller Lite, Metro Transit has offered free rides on St. Patrick’s Day for 15 years.
“It’s a great example of a public-private partnership,” Metro Transit spokesman John Siqveland said. “We have been credited by law enforcement and groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving for this program. It is popular with riders; we have thousands of people who use the service every year. And we have seen steady growth year after year as more people become accustomed to how it works and plan ahead.”
MillerCoors alcohol responsibility manager Diane Wagner also hopes that people who choose to party will plan ahead for a safe ride home.
“Drunk driving is completely preventable, and we encourage residents and visitors to make a tradition of responsibility with the help of Miller Lite Free Rides,” she said.
In addition to the Twin Cities, MillerCoors helps underwrite free service in Chicago and Madison, Green Bay, Waukesha and Milwaukee, Wis.
Nordin is from Milwaukee, whose public transportation system offers free rides on New Year’s Eve and St. Patrick’s Day.
“I thought if they could do it on a large scale with millions of people, then we could definitely do it here in Duluth,” she said. “We want people to have a great time out on New Year’s Eve, but we want them to be safe.”