The Otter Tail County Safe Communities Coalition began a Safe Ride Program in Otter Tail County (population: 58,437) because of the number of alcohol-related crashes that have occurred within the county’s borders, according to Jane Patrick, coordinator of the Otter Tail County Safe Communities Coalition. The high number of alcohol-related crashes in Otter Tail County’s large geographic area makes it one of Minnesota’s top 13 deadliest counties in the state.
When beginning the program, the Otter Tail County Safe Communities Coalition started by reviewing the different safe ride models that have been successful in other counties. The coalition decided to pursue the model that was used in the Brainerd/Cross Lake area because of its ability to provide “something for everyone.” This model provides rides home from an establishment as well as rides to an establishment and between different establishments. After choosing a shuttle service, identifying drivers, advertising, and figuring out other details, a pilot program began on May 1, 2010.
The program includes shuttle service on Fridays and Saturdays from 6:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m. The shuttle provides free rides between residences and establishments until 10:00 p.m. and $10 rides for passengers after 10:00 p.m. Since beginning operation in May 2010, the Safe Ride Program has given 393 rides after 10:00 p.m. and 210 rides before 6 p.m. It has proved popular with the 21- to 29-year-old age group.
The program has celebrated many successes, including positive feedback from participating local establishments and increased popularity, but the program has also faced challenges. For example, it can be difficult to find cab service in rural areas, find reliable drivers, and integrate free rides and paid rides. Also, some users have been using the program to travel from bar to bar, which poses concerns of over-serving.
Regardless of the difficulties, the program continues to progress in a positive direction. The coalition hopes to find funding to support free rides for people in need, add more shuttles during the busiest operating hours, and expand the program geographically. The coalition is also in the process of collecting more information to help appeal to people of all ages.