The Tipsy Taxi program provided roughly 3,000 free cab rides during the past year to people who might have otherwise driven drunk, Casper's police chief said Tuesday.
The city has experienced a 10 percent drop in crashes this year, and Chief Tom Pagel said the program contributed to at least some of that decline. He made the comments at a press conference attended by Gov. Dave Freudenthal and several local officials who are encouraging sober driving during the holiday season.
Despite the program and other attempts to curb drunken driving, Casper police will arrest an estimated 650 people for driving under the influence this year, Pagel said. That would amount to a 73 percent increase since 2005.
"That's just way too many," he said. "It's unacceptable."
Pagel encouraged residents to report suspected drunken drivers and called on the Legislature to eliminate loopholes in the state's mandatory interlock device law. He also pushed a bill that would require jails to keep drunken driving suspects locked up for eight hours following their arrest.
The Tipsy Taxi program began in December 2009 and has been funded through $42,000 in private donations. It provides vouchers that Natrona County bar customers can use for free cab rides home after they've had too much to drink.
Pagel acknowledged the program isn't perfect. Some people have abused the service, and it doesn't provide treatment or encourage abstinence.
Tipsy Taxi does, however, keep drunk drivers off the road, he said.
"The goal of Tipsy Taxi is to decrease the chances that you or your family meet a drunk driver on our streets," he continued.
The Natrona County Liquor Dealers' Association has provided more than $10,000 in funding for Tipsy Taxi. But business owners and government can't solve the problem alone, said Wonder Bar owner Pat Sweeney.
"There has to be personal responsibility," he said. "Tipsy Taxi is only there to try and help you."
Most Casper area bars participate in the program. Sandbar Lounge owner Nancy Goddard has put up signs at her bar encouraging customers to take cabs home rather than drive drunk. She even keeps a Breathalyzer machine handy and offers tests to disbelieving customers.
The Sandbar goes through about 18 Tipsy Taxi vouchers each month, she said.
"We want you to come in and have a good time, of course ... but I also want you to come back tomorrow," she said.
Online news producer Douglas Garwood contributed to this report.
Reach reporter Joshua Wolfson at (307) 266-0582 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit http://trib.com/news/opinion/blogs/wolfjammies/ to read his blog. Follow him on Twitter @joshwolfson.