New business opens door to Safe Ride program
The flyer on bulletin boards around town tells part of the story: “Princeton Cab, now available!” Call 763-442-8322.
Owner Floyd Cox said he’s owned the Cambridge Cab business since 2013, and he kept getting calls from Princeton and questions outside the places here where he’d wait for clients.
Cox said, “I got thinking about it and said, you know, we need to put a cab over there in Princeton.”
One of the longtime Cambridge Cab drivers, Ron Huss, lives between Princeton and Zimmerman and was a good fit for service in the area. Cox said the company began taking calls in Princeton about a month ago, right after the city approved its permit to operate.
He said the cab – a minivan like the two in Cambridge – serves Princeton and the Highway 169 corridor up to and including Milaca. It runs at any and all hours and charges $3.50 to show up in Princeton and $2.80 per mile after that.
Huss said he’s answered calls at 2 a.m. and just about all other times of day. He said people need rides to the doctor, grocery store, business appointments, church and home from the bars. Princeton and Cambridge Cabs both offer curbside service to and from the airport for $150. The men said people also use cabs for shuttle service at wedding events and other kinds of private parties.
Cox and Huss said the service has not been inundated with calls yet, but they expect the volume to increase as word gets around. The owner said in the Cambridge-Isanti area, he usually runs one vehicle on weekdays and two on the weekends, the service’s busiest time. A light day might include 10-15 calls, and a heavy-volume day would be in the range of 35-50 calls.
“I’m capable of having four cabs on, if needed,” Cox said.
He’s looking for another driver to help out Huss so that if he’s not available, is on a run or doesn’t get the call due to spotty cell service, someone else is available. Huss said it never hurts to make an appointment for the cab if a time is known. Cox is an Army veteran and Huss served in the Marine Corps, and the business offers discounts to military veterans.
Cab business brings Safe Ride potential
Cox said he participates in the Minnesota Safe Ride program in the Cambridge-Isanti area and said he’d like to see it get started here, too. Judge Jim Dehns in the 10th District agrees; he has 29 years’ experience on the bench and many refer to him as the godfather of the Safe Ride program.
Dehns confirmed that he and his team started the program in 2005 in Isanti County and have helped foster many others including in Pine, Kanabec, Wright, Chisago, Ottertail and Rice counties. He regularly travels to other places – even recently to Reno, Nevada – to present data about it. Dehn said in Isanti County, eight people took a ride during the first month of the program, but since then it’s given 21,000 people a sober ride home.
Dehn said from 2006 to 2013, “We’ve dropped our DUI arrests by 69 percent.”
Loren Davis is a former bar owner in the Cambridge-Isanti area who serves as the volunteer chairman of the Minnesota Safe Ride committee in Isanti. He said the first thing needed to start it is a functional cab company willing to participate. Next comes discussion with local bar owners to see if they’re willing to participate in the program. According to Dehn and Davis, Safe Ride works by vouchers that the cab company prints and the bartenders distribute and sign. The first $10 of the ride is free to rider, which Cox and Huss said typically gets someone to anywhere within city limits.
Costs for the rides, vouchers, posters advertising the program and other program elements are paid for via joint effort. It amounts to one-fifth each from Safe Ride, from three distributors of alcoholic beverages in the area and from the local bars. Dehn and Davis said each bar is asked donate the profits from one box of pull tabs once per year, and each bar’s single, annual donation practically funds the program for another year.
While some small-business owners resist the contribution at first, Dehn said the statistical data and facts usually convince them. Safe Ride reduces owners’ liability, decreases the number of drunken driving arrests, increases road safety and saves lives.
“If we could get all the bar owners interested from Princeton and Zimmerman,” Dehn said, “we could come over and explain how the whole program works.”
Cheryl Turck is a probation officer in Sherburne County who has coordinated the Safe Ride program in Big Lake, Becker and Elk River. She calls it “such a win-win situation” for the bars and the people using the rides. It helps individual drivers avoid the $10,000 to $20,000 cost of a DUI.
“I’m now working on expanding the program into the Zimmerman and Princeton areas,” Turck said.
Dehn calls her a “superstar” of the program in Sherburne County, and Turck said she’ll definitely be discussing the startup of a program in Mille Lacs County now that there is cab service to support it. Neither she nor the Mille Lacs County Sheriff’s Office were aware of any current or past efforts to get it started here.
County Attorney Joe Walsh said about Safe Ride, “I do not know of anyone currently participating in that program in Mille Lacs County or advocating to bring it to Mille Lacs County, but I would be supportive of this program as a measure to protect the public from intoxicated drivers.”