By Bob Uphues
Back in mid-July Riverside Police Chief Thomas Weitzel noted that during the first six months of 2017, arrests for drunk driving were down 31 percent year over year.
At the time, Weitzel said, the officers working the midnight shift – when the vast majority of arrests for driving under the influence occur – indicated that the reduction might be attributable to ride-sharing services, such as Lyft and Uber.
"My officers said they found absolutely ride shares were making a difference," Weitzel said.
Officers, said the chief, related that when they are called to local establishments to help remove someone who has been over-served, they've witnessed those people pull out their phones and order a ride-share, even if their car is parked out front on the street.
Riverside police say they have told people to leave their cars parked on the street – police won't ticket or tow them, Weitzel said -- and pick them up the next morning. The goal is to get impaired drivers off the road, Weitzel said.
"An Uber or Lyft is there in five minutes," Weitzel said.
About a week that July announcement about the reduction in DUI arrests in 2017, Weitzel said he contacted Uber and Lyft about coming up with a way to convince people who have been drinking alcohol to use those services instead of getting back in their own vehicles.
Uber never responded, Weitzel said, but Lyft did.
And on Aug. 14, Weitzel announced a partnership between the Riverside Police department and Lyft, which will provide discounted rides to anyone who has been given a 3-by-5 card by police or by an employee of a local establishment who believes that person might need a safe ride home.
When the user orders the ride, he or she can type in a code that will provide a 50 percent discount, up to $10, for that ride. Lyft delivered 1,000 such cards to Riverside police to start the partnership.
"It's up to us as to how we're going to distribute them," Weitzel said.
According to Weitzel, the cards will be stapled to bond information sheets given to DUI offenders, and they'll also be passed out to anyone who's a passenger in a vehicle involved in a DUI arrest.
Many times, those passengers are also intoxicated and have to call a cab, ride-share or a family member for rides after the driver is arrested. Police will carry cards in their squad cars and will also distribute them to local restaurants and bars that serve alcohol. Employees who feel someone who needs a ride home can give them a discount card.
"All it is, is an attempt to reduce drunk driving," Weitzel said.
Weitzel said neither the village nor the police department is subsidizing the discounted rides. Lyft took care of printing the cards and delivering them to Riverside police.
Lyft's Midwest general manager, David Katcher, said in an email that the program with Riverside is Lyft's first official partnership with a police department in Illinois.
"We have a number of partnerships across the country to reduce impaired driving, including one with the Seattle Department of Transportation and Seattle Vision Zero (which included partnering with the Seattle Police Department in January 2016)," Katcher said.
The company, he said, "wanted to do everything we could to ensure Riverside residents and visitors were getting home safely."