Monday, November 3, 2008

Good business from bad habit?

Chris Stokes runs a small business here in Lincoln, OMALiNK, that started as a shuttle service for Lincoln residents using the greater variety of airline connections at Eppley Airfield in Omaha (OMA) compared to those available from the Lincoln Municipal Airport (LNK). I think that was a great idea for an entrepreneur, and his business seems to be growing in popularity, based on the frequency with which I see his colorful logo on Interstate 80. He called me last week, to tell me that he was going to provide another service aimed at a different market. Here's the announcement:

OMALiNK Announces Project Safe Ride Home

Company to Offer Transportation Alternative for Downtown Lincoln

Lincoln – October 29, 2008—OMALiNK Shuttle and Limousine Service is announcing plans to begin groundbreaking service in Lincoln, Nebraska. Project Safe Ride Home will provide downtown Lincoln and its patrons a safe alternative to driving under the influence after a night on the town. “Besides a handful of taxis, Lincoln has never had a convenient, safe, and reliable way for people to get home after an evening at the downtown bars and restaurants,” says Chris Stokes, the president of OMALiNK, Inc. “For too long the people of Lincoln have been held hostage by a lack of transportation alternatives,” continues Stokes, “patrons of downtown Lincoln have few options. People are faced with the choice to wait sometimes an hour for a taxi, or to take the risk of driving home under the influence of alcohol…Too many times people choose the latter.” The decision to begin Project Safe Ride Home was based on discussion with members of the downtown Bar and Restaurant owner’s association, and pleadings of community members and university students who asked OMALiNK to commit to improving the lack of adequate evening transportation options.

With six years experience in the Lincoln transportation market, Stokes has heard repeated pleas for other options for the city of 262,000 people. “Over and over I hear the appeals of my customers for another transportation option…Programs like Project Safe Ride Home will help make Lincoln the great city that it has the potential to be; and an efficient transportation system is crucial for our future and the 2015 vision.” To operate within the city of Lincoln, authority must be granted by the Nebraska Public Service Commission, the entity that governs and regulates the transportation industry in the state. In 2007, Stokes received that authority for OMALiNK in a decision made by the commission, which allowed the company to operate within the city limits using a fare system based on zones. During the hearing process and on public record, story after story of late pickups, rude behaviors, dirty vehicles and drivers, and other examples of poor service were revealed in the existing system. “The system is clearly broken, and it needs to be fixed,” says Stokes, “and OMALiNK’s Project Safe Ride Home is the solution.”

While I wished him good luck, I also told him that I have strongly mixed feelings about safe ride programs, particularly those that target young drinkers in settings such as Lincoln's 14th and O Street area. On the one hand, I like the idea of making affordable transportation options available to people when they are going out to drink and dine. The free shuttles in downtown Denver come immediately to mind. On the other hand, I think you'll find that a lot of those bar break early-20-something drunks in downtown Lincoln are not done for the night. The cheap or free ride is simply taking them to the next party or back to the apartment complex where there car is parked. They will be moving on from there.

I also do not like the implicit message that it's OK to get completely wasted, as long as you have a ride. Drunk driving is certainly a major consequence for binge drinkers, but there are many other risks as well. It's not that I object to the safe-ride/designated driver message, I just think that it should be balanced with messages like these: know your limit; don't drink to the point of intoxication; pace yourself at one per hour; drinking shots is stupid; a nice microbrew or two is more pleasant than a pitcher. Drinking should not be about getting drunk. A social norm that views drunkenness as offensive and the drunk as someone with a serious problem--rather than just someone in need of a ride--is a good thing. Is it just me?

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

My Magic 8-ball answered "Outlook good" when asked if Mr. Gum would show up in the comments for this posting. Being a fan of binge drinking, the Gummeister will probably take offense toward any criticism of passed-out-in-your-own-vomit drunkenness.

Zen said...

Chief,

If they want to get completely wasted, but aren't driving, more power to them. There is no implicit message-its all on them and if they can't act like an adult and consume in moderation there is no amount of finger wagging that is going to fix it. Those habits start a long time before college. They have the right to drink themselves to stupidity if they want to, im just glad they wont be Driving. If OMA link makes it a policy that they will only drop off to a residence or hotel/motel or something, that should be sufficient. After that the ultimate responsibility is on them-what are you going to do, tag everyone with 'drink-o-meters' that start administering shocks as their threshold decreases? You can't win all of them. This guy seems to have his heart in the right place.

Tom Casady said...

Zen-

I pretty much agree with you, and I certainly like the idea of anything that keeps a drunk driver off the road. I especially like the initiative by Mr. Stokes, and hope that his biz plan succeeds. I just have this nagging discomfort that I'm not doing a very good job explaining.

I guess its sort of like handing out condoms or providing day care in high schools. I just wonder, sometimes, if some of these things send a mixed message that exacerbates the problem. I'm probably just over-analyzing it.

When you look at some other harmful health behaviors (cigarette smoking and seat belt use come to mind), changes in social attitudes and norms have done far more to reduce the harm than laws could ever accomplish.

Right now it seems to me that among younger drinkers at least, there is little or no social reprobation associated with getting puking drunk and waking up with no memory of last night.

Anonymous said...

Wait of minute!!!! No one should be walking out of bars "wasted, puking, staggering". There are rules against this and it is called overserving. Is this not enforced anymore? If we have 4 cops standing on O st to prevent fights, aren't they looking for these people that are staggering out of the bar and dealing with this?

Zen said...

That explained where you come from better. I think it may be that in your capacity an an enforcer, and possibly somewhat older, that the desire to trump biology or stupidity (in the case of two of your examples) is stronger than the ability to get it done. I do think that drinking is more workable than sex-biology is what it is, and a generation ago grandma and grandpa were getting married at 16-17 years old.

Tom Casady said...

zen-

"The desire to trump biology or stupidity is stronger than the ability to get it done."

It's only Monday, but I am already awarding you the quote of the week. Nobody's going to top that one. I should have that framed in needlepoint on my wall.

Anonymous said...

I am all for this new service! More power to him. In fact, somewhere there should be a government grant available for him as start-up money. I also agree with you, Chief, that ppl should not be getting wasted on a regular basis, but gosh, sometimes it is just FUN! I am coming from the point of view of someone who lost her eldest niece to a drunk driver. The pain never goes away and it keeps us from putting a key into an ignition after we've had two drinks.
SC

Kendra said...

To write a bar a citation for overserving, the officer actually has to watch an obviously intoxicated person go in to a bar, and see the bartender pour him or her another drink. If they are already "staggering and puking" outside the bar, it's too late to write anyone for overserving. That also doesn't count any "priming" said person did prior to going downtown. With those "4 cops watching for fights" and sometimes thousands of downtown bar patrons, babysitting every drunk to make sure they don't drink too much probably proves somewhat difficult.

Anonymous said...

My problem with the current DWI laws are the low tolerance levels. What is it .08? Have any scientific studies been done that show impairment at such low levels? I doubt it. I think the political pressure by groups like MADD and others has forced this.

I should say I don't have a dog in this fight. In the past ten years I probably haven't consumed more than a few bottles of wine and less than a six pack of beer. Never more than two glasses at a time. I just don't care for the stuff.

JMHO

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