Another Sask. bar tries to curb impaired driving by offering patrons a free ride home
Businesses team up with designated driver services in effort to curb drunk driving
Another Saskatchewan bar is launching a free ride service as the province gets ready to toughen impaired driving laws in the new year.
Birmingham's Vodka and Ale House, located in Regina's east end, is now offering patrons a ride home. Bar-goers will receive a ride home in a bar-owned vehicle, free of charge.
The service is available year-round, says owner Chad Zipchian.
"It's for every customer, regardless if they've had too much [to drink] or not," Zipchian said.
Patrons will be put on a list with their contact information and when they plan to leave. A manager will take a look at the queue and start coordinating rides with a dedicated, designated driver throughout the night.
The Saskatchewan government is toughening up its impaired driving laws in the new year, including one that lets police seize vehicles. The new rules are set to come into effect on Jan. 1, 2017. Under the proposed rule changes, experienced drivers found to have a blood-alcohol level between .04 and .08 — on a first offence — will have their vehicles seized and impounded for three days.
Currently, there are no vehicle seizures for experienced drivers with that blood-alcohol level. A zero tolerance policy will also be enacted for drivers aged 21 and under.
Saskatchewan led the provinces last year in its impaired driving rate, according to Statistics Canada. In 2015, the province had 575 impaired driving incidents per 100,000 people reported by police. By comparison, Alberta's rate, the second-highest, was 314 per 100,000 people.
Similar services available
Other pubs in Regina and Saskatoon are offering a similar service to Birmingham's.
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Yaya Wang is brand director of Leopold's Hospitality Management Group, which operates Victoria's Tavern, three Leopold's locations in Regina and one in Saskatoon. The group has partnered up with a designated driving service to offer free rides to patrons of their bars two nights a week.
The service is offered through the month of December only. However, the drivers, in teams of two, take people home from the bar in their own vehicles.
Wang said the response has been very good.
"We still found that there was a little bit more education that we had to provide," Wang said. "People were really surprised it was free and that this is a service which is regularly available in Saskatoon and Regina."
She referred to drinking and driving in Saskatchewan as an epidemic.
"That's part of the challenge we have to overcome," Wang said. "It's not OK to drive under any type of influence."
Wang said it's not just the legal costs that people will deal with but the human cost and the potential for injury or life lost.
"Maybe your plan was only to have a beer but once you realize that this service is available, that might allow to you enjoy a few more and then still get home safely."
Sustainability is key
The Birmingham's service will employ their designated driver directly rather than a second-party service.
"What we wanted to do was something that's in our control," Zipchian said, adding that a sustainable service was also a factor.
"If other pubs jump on board, that's great," Zipchian said.
He said he has noticed an increase in people catching a cab to the bar, knowing they have the option of a free ride home, and people leaving their vehicles in the parking lot overnight.
The response has been overwhelming for Zipchian.
"Everybody is pumped about it," he said.
"I see this as a value to our customers, being local and a neighbourhood-type environment," Zipchian said. "It's something that I'm going to keep, regardless of whether it takes a bite out of my bottom line or not."
Birmingham's service will be available during Thursday through Saturday nights, from 9 p.m. until 2 a.m. CST.
With files from Glenn Reid