Free Taxi Rides Aim to Keep Drunks Off the Road

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Los Angeles Police Department has a new plan to sweep drunken partiers off the road this holiday season: vouchers for free taxi rides home.

Through Jan. 1, anyone within city limits can use a voucher good for seven miles with any of the 10 city-authorized taxicab companies. About 50,000 vouchers, each valued at $12, are available at many local restaurants and all LAPD stations, said Officer Tom Souza, who started the program this year.

The LAPD is coordinating the program; cab companies are paying for the rides. "In the spirit of the holidays, it seemed like a good idea to help [the LAPD] achieve their goal of fewer drunk people on the street," said Dennis Rouse, senior vice president of L.A. Taxi. "They hit us, too."

In the San Fernando Valley on Friday night, bartenders greeted the program with enthusiasm. "It'll be great," Terri Grossman said as she began serving rounds at the Pickwick Pub in Woodland Hills. "I don't want people drinking too much in here and then driving out and hurting someone."

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Sgt. Rod Grahek of the LAPD's Valley Traffic detail said the winter holidays bring out intoxicated drivers. "People are celebrating, and they like to drink when they celebrate," he said.

And in the Valley, Grahek noted, there is only one way for soused revelers to travel. "Everything is by car out here," he said.

Arresting and jailing drunk drivers, Grahek said, does little to prevent them from driving drunk again. "People are still running into each other and killing each other."

In Los Angeles County last December, 26 people were killed and 1,079 were injured in alcohol-related car accidents, said California Highway Patrol Officer Rob Lund.

Souza, a traffic officer for 28 years, also started the LAPD's "Paddy Wagon" program for St. Patrick's Day in 1990. The free van service took about 300 revelers home this year.

"Imagine all the people not getting hit because they were off the road," Souza said. "Maybe one person didn't get killed--that makes it worth it."

Police run a similar van program for Cinco de Mayo, May 5, another popular drinking holiday.

Although CHP officers will be out in force through Monday to arrest drunk drivers, some sheriff's deputies in the city of Industry area will hand out tickets of another kind. Through Jan. 2, deputies will be stopping good drivers and passing out free hockey game tickets and one-month health club memberships, said Sgt. Tim Murakami. Motorists will get either tickets to see the Ice Dogs play or a trial membership at a fitness club that is sponsoring the program.

Correspondent Nicholas Riccardi contributed to this story.

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