The creation of the Isanti County “SafeCab” program represents the meeting of several minds with similar ideas about the need for alternative transportation in the county. It began in 2003, with a local resident of Isanti County’s largest city, Cambridge, a town of approximately 7,500 located less than an hour north of the Twin Cities. The resident tells the story:
We had been [out] drinking for several hours when I told a friend (who lived in our town for many years) that we needed to call a cab for a ride home. He laughed and told me they did not have a cab service. I said that our city needed a cab. He laughed again and then told me I was right.
That experience was the beginning of a taxi business in Cambridge. Jump ahead to the spring of 2004, when community stakeholders, including a local judge, were at a meeting of the local Toward Zero Death (TZD) traffic safety coalition. The group decided that transportation alternatives were needed for patrons of local bars and restaurants who would otherwise drink and drive home. With that, a partnership was born to provide SafeCab services in rural Isanti County, population 39,000. Rides began in 2005.
Today, the Isanti County SafeCab program offers rides home to patrons of participating bars and restaurants after an evening of drinking. Drivers return at a later time, presumably sober, to retrieve vehicles left in the parking lots of participating establishments. The program does not provide rides to or between bars. SafeCab services are provided by the local taxi company and are available Thursday through Saturday nights and on special occasions from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. The service is free to the patron for rides up to $15; for rides exceeding that amount, the patron is responsible for the difference. SafeCab fares are subsidized by a formula in which one-third of the program’s funding comes from each of these three sources: participating bars and restaurants, a local beer distributor, and a community fund that includes donations from local businesses and grant funding.
An estimated 50 percent of the bars in Isanti County participate in the SafeCab program, and in 2009, 726 rides were given to 1,347 people. In 2009, the SafeCab board became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charitable corporation to aid in encouraging, facilitating, and organizing community donations to the SafeCab program, including proceeds from pull-tab gaming. Other program-related financial and administrative oversight duties are performed by an official from the regional planning and development organization.
The Isanti County TZD traffic safety coalition has been actively involved in marketing the efforts of the SafeCab program. The ride service is heavily promoted through use of program-related napkins, table toppers, and window signs in bars; by media promotion of special events and competitions for top bar and top bartenders; at community celebrations; and by local judges informing DWI defendants in court about the availability of the program.
East Central Regional Development Commission
Judge James E. Dehn
Isanti County Government Center