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This report summarizes the results of a project that examined the operation and effects of an alternative ride program in Aspen, Colorado. The project was conducted for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Specific objectives were:

  • to describe the operation of a year-round ride service program for potentially alcohol-impaired drivers, and
  • to evaluate its effectiveness in terms of reducing alcohol-related crashes.


Ride service programs for alcohol-impaired persons have been in existence in the United States for many years (Harding, Apsler, and Goldfein, 1988). They vary from ones which are organized in conjunction with a major holiday associated with drinking (e.g., New Year's Eve) to programs which operate on a year-round basis. The authors were able to identify 325 ride service programs (RSPs) across the country. They found that most ride service programs (two-thirds) use taxis to provide the transportation, but that other types of vehicles are also used, including privately owned vehicles (often used in programs run by or for students), tow trucks, buses, vans and even police cars. In addition to programs which use tow trucks to transport the drinker's vehicle, some dispatch two drivers, one to provide the ride home and the other to transport the drinker's vehicle. They concluded that ride service programs are widespread and relatively easy to set up and operate, but that "Rigorous (impact) evaluations of RSPs are virtually non-existent" and that, for program operators, "the fact that they are delivering rides (even a small number of rides) is evidence enough for them that the program is working" (pg. 56).

One school of thought is that, as with enforcement (Lacey, Jones, and Smith, 1999), ride service programs which operate on a year-round basis rather than sporadically during perceived high risk periods may show promise in reducing alcohol-related crashes. However, previous examinations of such programs (Molof et al., 1995) have been unable to discern an effect on alcohol-related crashes. In this study they studied both a year-round program (I'm Smart in Syracuse, New York ) and a holiday program (Sober Cab, which operates between December 25 and January 1 in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota). They found that these programs functioned quite smoothly and that there was good awareness of the programs in both communities. However, Molof et al. were unable to discern an effect attributable to the programs either on Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) arrests or on alcohol-related crashes. One rationale proposed for this finding is that the volume of rides provided could avert only a small fraction of the DWI events taking place in the communities, and thus would be unlikely to have a measurable direct effect on arrests or crashes.

For the current project, the initial charge was to identify a well-established ride service program, which provided continuous service and had become self-sustaining. Then steps were taken to document its procedures and an examine of its effect on crashes. The intent is to add to the knowledge base about alternative transportation programs intended to reduce impaired driving.


The project called for conducting a case study of a year-round ride service program that had been in place for some time, in order to identify characteristics of an active, self-sustaining program. By networking through NHTSA regional offices, Aspen's Tipsy Taxi program was identified as such a program. Preliminary inquiries were made to determine Aspen's interest in participating in the study. In consultation with Aspen and Colorado officials, it was decided that the counties containing Telluride and Crested Butte (San Miguel and Gunnison Counties respectively) would be appropriate comparison communities because they had similar characteristics as destination resort areas but did not have a long history of a similarly active ride service program. Telluride had a ride service program that was used very infrequently and Crested Butte had a more limited program of van service operated by off-duty police officers.

Next, project staff visited the site and conducted a series of discussions with site contacts to obtain information regarding the implementation and operation of the program.

The last step was to analyze crash data to estimate the impact of the program on a proxy of alcohol-related crashes.


This chapter is followed by a chapter describing the program and presenting data on the actual operation of Tipsy Taxi. This is followed by a chapter describing the crash analyses and their results. Conclusions and recommendations are presented in Chapter 4.

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