Police in Shakopee aren't just telling New Year's Eve revelers to plan for a sober ride home. The department is providing them at no cost.
New Year's Eve marks the third holiday that police in the southwest metro community will team up with the city's cab and transportation companies to take anybody who has had too much to drink home. The companies do the driving -- you won't be in a squad car -- and the police department foots the bill.
The free sober ride program in Shakopee is unusual in that it is sponsored by the police department. But it's not the only way to get from party to home without driving. Metro Transit and Miller Lite will offer free rides on all bus routes and light-rail trains from 6 p.m. Sunday until 3 a.m. Monday. A similar offer is available on buses operated by the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority.
This is the 30th year for the Miller Lite Free Rides program, which has provided more than 5.5 million people with a safe ride home.
In Shakopee, city residents simply download a coupon from the police department's website, or they can ask the bartender to do it for them. Nonresidents can get $10 off cab fare through the program, which will be offered from 9 p.m. Sunday through 2:30 a.m. Monday, said Liz Guggisberg, a city crime prevention specialist.
"There is no excuse to drive drunk when you are getting a free ride," she said. It doesn't matter how intoxicated a person is, "there are no questions asked."
Over the past five years, 27 people died on Minnesota roads in drunk driving-related crashes between Thanksgiving and New Year's, and nearly 13,000 people were arrested for DWI during the five-week holiday period, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.
It was the city's progressive police chief Jeff Tate who came up with the idea to keep drunk drivers off the road.Tate suggested the department offer free rides on the Saturday of Halloween weekend. About 30 revelers took the offer. Shakopee repeated the program on "Blackout Wednesday," the party night on the night before Thanksgiving. That night, about 40 people got free rides home.
"It's having an impact," Guggisberg said. "We want to be sure people get a safe ride home."
The department used funds from the Shakopee Crime Prevention Board to cover the cost of the Halloween and Thanksgiving rides. This time it will use money collected during property forfeitures.
"It's a win, win, win deal," said Bryan Turtle, owner of Turtle's Bar & Grill. "It's cheaper to keep drunks off the street than having to staff them with more officers. It's great for us because it brings people here, knowing they don't have to have a designated driver. It's a win for the transportation companies struggling since the Uber revolution. It's good for all three of us."
Turtle praised Chief Tate for initiating the program and helping build relationships between businesses and the department.
It's unclear if Shakopee's sober ride program will return for St. Patrick's Day, another big drinking holiday. But it will if Turtle has anything to do with it. He said he might ask a number of the downtown bars to fund it or collect donations for it.
"It's not that expensive," he said. "Even if it's for only one person, it's worth it for us."