Taxi Cab DilemmaPosted: April 2, 2009
Seven Budweiser’s placed Josh Dailey in a dilemma Tuesday night in downtown Athens. Dailey was just buzzed enough to possibly be over the legal alcohol limit, not drunk enough to completely rule driving out.
The combined 11 shots of whiskey and five bourbon mixed drinks denied Dailey’s two drinking partners, Marcus McGill and Mindy Corley, as potential chauffeurs.
“There is always one of us who is close enough to chance it,” Dailey, a Gainesville native, said. “I hate spending money on a cab when it’s this close because I hate making arrangements to get my car later. There’s really no other option though.”
Dailey’s lack-of-options mentality is not entirely off base.
WatchDawgs, a student-run service providing transportation for the University community, was shut down this semester, due to lack of funds.
“In a community like Athens, it’s absolutely necessary to have a program like ours,” said Ally Walls, director of public relations for WatchDawgs, in a phone interview with the Red & Black. [Without our service] students might end up getting behind the wheel instead of paying for a cab.”
WatchDawgs hopes to be fully operational by August, but offers no help to those intoxicated on a chilly weekday in late March.
Dailey and his friends positioned themselves on the curb outside Sideways Bar on Broad Street at 1:15 a.m., hoping to flag down a cab.
“I could call my roommate, but I don’t want to hassle him,” Dailey said. “Don’t really like bothering anybody.”
15 minutes pass as a half-concerted effort has left the group without a ride.
Two cabs zoomed by without hesitation. One stops, but has a few occupants. The trio decides to wait for another.
“A little bit longer and I may be able to sober up,” Dailey said.
An option the group didn’t think to exploit was the Zingo Athens Designated Driver’s organization.
Zingo sends a driver by motorbike within 10 minutes from the time a call is placed to drive people, and their car, safely home.
The price is $20 dollars for non-students, $15 for those with college identification.
“We want to reduce the number of DUIs in Athens,” company owner Scott Allen told the Red & Black. “Most people end up getting DUIs because they need their car the next day for work or class.”
Two more cabs pass by without stopping. With the night drawing closer to 2 a.m. the thought of getting home, in tact, and with his car become more appealing for Dailey.
“It’s really a convenience thing to drive home a little buzzed,” said Brandon Lloyd, a student at Athens Technical College who was also awaiting a ride.
“Especially on a week night, if you leave your car downtown, more times than not, you can kiss any morning classes good-bye. Unless you have really reliable friends who owe you favors, it can ruin your whole day.”
The possibility of Dailey becoming a police statistic, or worse, injuring or killing somebody was thwarted when an available cab pulled in. The group waited 27 minutes for the cab, and for $10 dollars apiece, their ride to Macon Highway was insured.
“10 bucks I’ll never get back,” said Dailey before sliding the back door shut.
Dailey may have been out $10 dollars, but on average DUIs cost $10,000 in court fines, probation and escalating insurance prices, according to the Aiken Report. In 2008, there were 207 DUI arrests made in Athens-Clarke County.
“I had the choice to grab a cab, or try to drive one night,” said Jacob Shook, a construction worker from Savannah. “I’d driven drunk quite a bit, and finally got caught. It was sick feeling knowing I could have been home maybe 30 minutes later without jeopardizing anybody’s life. I just never thought it could happen to me. It changed my line of thinking.”
Transportation has long since been at the heart of a problem for drinkers in Athens. It can be a hassle waiting. It can also be time consuming hoping for a cab with available seats to stop. The prospect of leaving a vehicle downtown and making arrangements to pick it up later can cause headaches.
“Taxi cabs are trying to make money first, and it’s good PR for them to float missing DUIs by catching one,” said Jonathan Messer, a bartender at 8e’s bar. “Most cabs don’t make it easier for drinkers because they wait around trying to pack in as many people as possible because an empty seat is worth $5 or $10 dollars.”
There are also safety concerns surrounding the taxi cab business. On March 27, United Taxi Driver Robert Louis Sims was arrested and charged with armed robbery and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
Drinkers place themselves in a vulnerable position, late at night, intoxicated, in a taxi cab.
“I’ve had some creepy moments when everybody else gets out and there is only two girls left going to the end of Lumpkin,” said Jill Kendall, a junior. “It makes me nervous.”
Taking a taxi may involve negatives, but the chance of DUI isn’t worth the risk, said a driver from TopDawg Taxi Service.
“Yes, this is my way of making a living, but people who drink need to think about everybody on the road first,” said Tim, who didn’t give his last name. “I play music, talk to the people I shuttle and try to make everyone comfortable. I give out my personal cell phone to try to make things easier for those I’ve gotten to know.”
Still the process for some is a sobering experience.
“I got a ticket this morning,” said Dailey via text message the following morning. “That’s five bucks I won’t get back.”