With Uber, A Safer Ride Home

Townships are partnering with Uber to ensure residents get a safe ride home in an effort to reduce DUIs.

Illustration by Jason Schneider

The township of Evesham was on pace in 2015 to exceed 250 DUI arrests for the year—the most in its history. Randy Brown, mayor of the Burlington township (also known as Marlton), went looking for a solution.

What started out as a plan to utilize buses to safely shuttle townspeople home from bars and restaurants evolved into a partnership with Uber New Jersey to offer patrons free rides home within Evesham.

Uber, the popular ride service, created the technology to facilitate the Safe Ride program within its app. Now the program—the first of its kind, says Ana Mahony, general manager of Uber New Jersey—is drawing interest from other Jersey towns and beyond.

When a town partners with Uber to offer free rides home, the Safe Ride option shows up automatically in the app. Offered in Evesham nightly between 9 pm and 2 am, the ride is free to travel home from a bar or restaurant; the pickup and drop-off locations must be within the township.

Drivers are paid by the township’s Evesham Saving Lives program, which has partnered with Uber to foot the bill. No taxpayer money is involved. According to Brown, all 19 bars and restaurants in Evesham participate in the program and promote it to their patrons. In less than one year, the township has seen a 55 percent decrease in DUI arrests.

“We’ve found the cure for drunk driving,” Brown exults. “The bar owners are so appreciative of it that they’re donating to the program. The police are giant advocates of it… It’s a win-win for everybody.”

Evesham has expanded its program in partnership with neighboring Voorhees. It’s now open to residents traveling home from the 28 bars and restaurants within both towns. In April, Old Bridge—with financial support from the Old Bridge Business Alliance—began offering Safe Ride at a dozen locations, from 9 pm to 2 am, Thursday through Saturday nights.

Other towns are experimenting with their own variations on Safe Ride. This past Memorial Day weekend, Uber partnered with the John R. Elliott HERO Campaign and Bar Anticipation in Lake Como. A breathalyzer kiosk was set up at Bar A where patrons could test their blood-alcohol levels. Anyone participating received a free Uber ride home, up to $30.

Keeping drunk drivers off the road saves taxpayer dollars as well as lives. One nationwide study estimates drunk driving costs more than $132 billion annually in legal and incarceration expenses, property damage and more. But combating drunk driving is not the only incentive for some towns.

Mahony says a partnership with Summit—which, for two weeks last December, offered a flat $5 fare for all trips beginning and ending in the city—helped to alleviate a parking shortage during the holiday shopping season while also keeping locals in town thanks to the cheap fare. An Uber  survey taken after the promotion found that 68 percent of people participating in the program said they were more likely to stay in Summit for holiday shopping or social events.

Uber New Jersey also plans to expand Safe Ride relationships with universities, hospitals and retirement communities. Already in the works is a partnership with Hackensack University Medical Center to facilitate rides home for hospital employees and patients undergoing treatment.

For employees, the program will ensure safe rides home no matter what time their shifts end. For patients, technology within the app will tell drivers what door they need to get picked up from and when. (Hospital employees help to facilitate entry and exit.) While the program is still in the planning stage, HUMC expects to subsidize the cost of the rides once it is rolled out. Safe Rides on university campuses will aim to shuttle students to and from their dorms at night; in retirement communities, the program is geared to aid those who can no longer drive themselves around.

Evesham’s Brown says he hopes the Uber partnerships continue to expand across the Garden State.

“I’m disappointed more towns have not jumped in on it,” he says. “This should be a mandate coming from the state for every municipality that has bars and restaurants, who has a police force, to curb drunk driving.”

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