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March 17, 2011

Tipsy? Taxi! returns for St. Patrick's Day; How many calls will it drop this time?

Surely that's the first question to ask about the return of the free cab rides on St. Patrick's Day.

AAA Mid-Atlantic and Yellow Cab sponsor the rides on drinking high holidays to stem drunk driving.

But on New Year's Eve, the service received so many complaints that representatives of the State Highway Administration, a sponsor of the program, said they would have to re-examine how Tipsy? Taxi! is run.

In December, Yellow Cab missed about 18 percent of all Tipsy calls. And the waiting time for one of the cabs was as long as 45 minutes. As a result, there were only 92 rides on a free cab service that picks you up in front of a bar and drops you off in front of your house.

On Tuesday, AAA Mid-Atlantic announced an improved service would return for St. Patrick's Day. 

"Following the discussion on your blog regarding Tipsy? Taxi!, we wanted to reach to you directly as we gear up for St. Patrick's Day," AAA spokeswoman Christine Delise wrote Midnight Sun in an e-mail. "We've been working with our partners, [the State Highway Administration] and Yellow Cab, to discuss program enhancements, and in the short-term (sic) have added more staffing at the dispatch center to reduce call hold times."

The enhancements?

"Yellow Cab will be increasing their dedicated Tipsy? Taxi! phone operators from two to three," Delise wrote.

 The waiting time can still range from 15 to 45 minutes. But Delise said that, unlike on New Year's Eve when calls were concentrated to a few hours after midnight, on Thursday they should be more spread out.

"The number of revelers out at bars and restaurants tends to be much higher for that holiday [NYE] compared to St. Patrick's Day, especially when the next day is a day off for practically everyone," Delise wrote. 

The sponsors did make one significant change. The service on Thursday will be available starting at 4 p.m. and extending to 4 a.m., unlike on New Year's Eve, when it started at 8 p.m.

Beyond these changes, Delise said the sponsors did meet with the SHA to re-examine the program. They "came up with a few ideas to improve service" but they are still under evaluation.

Expanded hours of service and an additional phone operator are only modest improvements of a service, that, though commendable, may not be living up to its full potential.

But Delise defended the program's track record, if only on St. Patrick's Day.

"We have never had any issues from patrons regarding service on St. Patrick's Day during the five years the program has been operation (sic) for this holiday," she wrote.

Last year, she said, there were 172 Tipsy?Taxi! cab rides.

Delise pointed out that on Thursday participants are free to call Yellow Cab general manager Dwight Kines with complaints at 443-573-3416.

The rules for the service, for better or worse, are the same Thursday as they were on New Year's Eve:

Tipsy is only available by calling the special hotline (1-877-963-8294); it is free only up to $50 of cab fare; cabs will only pick up participants in front of a bar, and drop them off in front of a residence; and it is still available only to adults.

Like on New Year's Eve, Delise pointed out that the sponsors urged patience. 

"As with every holiday, Yellow Cab's full fleet will be on the road to serve St. Patrick's Day revelers. We give Tipsy? Taxi! calls priority, but because of the high demand, wait time may be length. We ask that customers be patient and persistent; if they get a busy signal, please dial again," she wrote.

Patient and persistent, that pretty much sums up your basic St. Paddy's Day drinker doesn't it?

Read more St. Patrick's Day coverage.

Photo: Tipsy? Taxi! announcement press conference in December (Algerina Perna/Baltimore Sun)


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Posted by Erik Maza at 8:30 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Bars & Clubs, News
        

Comments

It would be useful if the Circulator would stay running for a couple extra hours on holidays like this.

190 cabs were dispatched to pick-up Tipsy?Taxi! callers this St. Patrick's Day, representing a 10% increase over last year’s rides. This number reflects 190 would be drunk drivers removed from Baltimore City and surrounding area roads, as well as additional casualties prevented as a result of drunk driving.

Adding an additional dedicated Tipsy?Taxi! call taker helped improve Yellow Cab’s call answering response rate, which was 93% for every hour of service except for 1:00 am to 2:00am. During the 1:00-2:00 am hour, call volume increased as drinkers heeded last call and started heading to the exits; consequently around 34% of calls were dropped.

On a non-holiday night Yellow Cab’s call answering response rate ranges from 80% to 96%. Last Thursday night the cab company’s call center for their paying customers was averaging around 88% so Tipsy?Taxi! callers got answered at a better rate than calls to Yellow Cab’s regular number for paid service. Again, Tipsy?Taxi! calls are given priority over paying customers as Yellow Cab continues to provide regular cab service to the other patrons. However, Yellow Cab’s phone lines for paying customers got hammered with calls around closing time as well. Unfortunately, it is the nature of the beast that all cab companies often face on St. Patrick’s Day, New Year’s Eve or even on a Saturday night when bars are closing and everyone wants a ride home at the same time.

The Tipsy?Taxi! partners are proud of the long standing partnership with Yellow Cab and work closely to evaluate the cab company’s calling rate to ensure that customers receive the best possible service and response. Yellow Cab provides call center staffing at no charge and as a community service, saving lives as they prioritize Tipsy?Taxi! year after year. We will also continue to explore ways to improve the call response rate during that key hour when last call is sounded, the bars are closing, and everyone wants to go home at the same time.

Given the growth of the Tipsy?Taxi! campaign over the past couple of years, AAA Mid-Atlantic, SHA and Yellow Cab have been discussing strategies to ensure not only quality service but as many FREE rides to customers as possible during campaign periods.

As previously mentioned, Yellow Cab has dedicated an additional call taker due to the success of the program and the increase in calls over the past several holidays, to help improve call answering response rates during high volume periods. In order to continue offering this FREE service to the community, the company will continue to provide an additional call taker for upcoming holidays and dedicate its resources to the program.

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at erik.maza@baltsun.com. Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.
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