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This report summarizes the results of a project that examined the operation and effects of an alternative ride program in Aspen, Colorado. The project was conducted for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Specific objectives were:

  • to describe the operation of a year-round ride service program for potentially alcohol-impaired drivers, and
  • to evaluate its effectiveness in terms of reducing alcohol-related crashes.

Aspen’s Tipsy Taxi is administered through the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office as a crime prevention program with assistance from Aspen and Snowmass Police Departments and the local restaurant association. It is one part of a three-pronged approach to DUI prevention, along with education and enforcement. Tipsy Taxi is operated within an environment described by the Sheriff’s Office as "enlightened, humanistic enforcement," instituted in the 1970s by then-Sheriff Dick Kienast and continued by current Sheriff Bob Braudis and Aspen Police Chief Tom Stephenson. The fundamental philosophy is that there should be a partnership of law enforcement with the community to encourage residents and tourists to make correct choices.

Tipsy Taxi, which was initiated in 1983, is an extension of that philosophy and espouses the credo of providing a better choice. The cornerstone upon which Tipsy Taxi is built is "simplicity." The program is intended to be so simple to implement that even a person whose judgment is impaired by alcohol will make the right choice -- to take a free ride home instead of driving.

Tipsy Taxi was initially set up and continues to be guided by an informal advisory committee, comprised of individuals with various perspectives on the program. Those on the committee include the deputy sheriff who is the director, an Aspen police officer, the taxi company owner, a taxi driver, a bus driver, a bus supervisor, a bar owner, a bartender, the county attorney, the doctor who is the medical advisory, a member of the alcohol abuse recovering community and a citizen at large.

Tipsy Taxi is available 24-hours a day, 365 days a year. Program personnel feel that makes it easier for peace officers to arrest drunk drivers rather than succumbing to the temptation of "letting them off the hook". Officers are told that every drunk driver arrested by local officers had the opportunity to make a better choice and yet chose to ignore that offer.

In 1990, the Aspen City Council instituted the first of three ordinances prescribing mandatory training for bar owners, managers, and bartenders in topics such as liquor laws, over-serving laws, underage drinking laws, signs and symptoms of intoxication, symptoms of diseases that can mimic intoxication, tactics for peacefully cutting off service to intoxicated people, and proper use of alternative rides including Tipsy Taxi. Peace officers also have high levels of training in dealing with intoxicated people. Tipsy Taxi vouchers can be authorized only by these trained professionals.

Another variable impacting Tipsy Taxi ridership has been the availability of the public bus system. Until the early-1990s, "down-valley" bus service ceased at 11:30 PM. Because bars stay open until 2:00 AM, it is easy to understand why so many people took a Tipsy Taxi. When bus service was extended to include the early morning hours (until 2:30 AM) in the mid 1990s, Tipsy Taxi ridership declined.

Although sources of funding have changed over the past 17 years, two basic concepts, required by Pitkin County, have remained constant: tax dollars may not be used to fund Tipsy Taxi fares and the program may not operate in the red. Funding has come from regular fund-raising events, mailed solicitations, grants, alcohol license fees, fees for DUI offenders, and the like.

In addition to occasional publicity events, on-going public information efforts have included advertisements in the local newspaper, radio public service ads (in English and Spanish), flyers distributed in rental cars, and hard news coverage about the program.

Because Pitkin County has relatively few crashes, reductions which approach statistical significance are unlikely to be found except with interventions with dramatic results. Examination of crash data indicated that nighttime, injury and fatal crashes all declined after implementation of Tipsy Taxi. Injury crashes decreased by 15% in Pitkin County after the implementation of Tipsy Taxi, and there was no reduction of injury crashes in the comparison counties. The fact that nighttime and fatal crashes declined coincident with the implementation of the Tipsy Taxi program and that injury crashes declined significantly gives credence to the proposition that this ride service program has served to help reduce alcohol-related crashes.

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