Cleveland, Minnesota, is a small town of 800 people in south-central Minnesota. The taxi service in the nearest town will not travel to Cleveland, leaving the small community without any public transportation options. After the Cleveland Police Department was criticized for making too many DWI arrests in 2003, a sergeant with the department came up with an idea. He reasoned that critics could not complain when impaired drivers were arrested after having the option of a free ride home and not using it. So the Cleveland Police Department started its own “Sober Cab” program.
Cleveland has three bars and a municipal liquor store. Free rides are available from any of these establishments or from private residences to a residence within a 10-mile radius of Cleveland. Rides are not provided to or between locations, but only to a person’s final destination for the evening. The police will respond to a call from any establishment staff or from a driver.
Operating only when Cleveland has police coverage, rides are available from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m., seven days a week, 365 days a year. Cleveland generally has a single squad car working each evening, but with extra Sober Cab demand on many holidays, the department will staff a second squad car for Sober Cab duties. This unusual public service is funded wholly through the Police Department’s budget.
The program has received mixed support from the Cleveland City Council, primarily because of questions of liability for the police department. An opinion was sought from the Minnesota League of Cities, which counseled that liability for the City of Cleveland would be greater if individuals were knowingly allowed to leave the municipal liquor store, the source of the most Sober Cab calls, than by transporting impaired individuals in police vehicles.
The Cleveland Police Department estimates it receives approximately 80 to 100 calls for rides annually and transported 145 persons in 2009. Marketing efforts are limited to word of mouth, Sober Cab fliers at the bars in Cleveland, and a page describing the program on the police department’s Web site.
Chief Randall Tiegs
Cleveland, Minnesota, Police Department