Tipsy?Taxi! fails to deliver
It's been many years since this blogger has gone out bar-hopping on New Year's Eve, but this year I was able to call on the services of a 21-year-old surrogate to put the services of Tipsy?Taxi! -- the free cab ride service promoted at various holidays as an alternative to driving -- to the test.
The young man and his friends were well prepared with the phone number of the supposed service as they headed to Federal Hill to welcome the new year at one of that neighborhood's saloons. But the next day he reported that repeated efforts to get through to the Tipsy?Taxi number were met with a busy signal.
Fortunately, the young men had prepared for the possibility of disappointment by carrying the extra cash it took to hail a cab and return to Towson when the night's festivities concluded about 2 a.m.
This is not the first report Getting There and other Sun blogs have received about Tipsy?Taxi! failing to come through. Certainly the service's sponsors -- including Yellow Cab, AAA Mid-Atlantic and the State Highway Administration -- are well-intentioned, but if people can't rely on it, why continue it?
Yellow Cab and AAA are private entities, so what they do is up to them. But the SHA's sponsorship gives the service a government seal of approval that it appears not to deserve. If the agency can't provide the personnel to answer the phones, it ought to drop its participation.
Ragina Averella, a spokeswoman for AAA, said the organization still believes Tipsy?Taxi! is a useful service that provides a good alternative to driving home from a bar of holiday weekends. She said AAA's preliminary tally shows that 92 rides were provided by the service on New year's Eve.
"We will be looking at how we can possibly improve that service," she said. "I think we did a great job of getting the word out about it -- maybe too good."
Dwight Kines, general manager of Yellow Cab, said the was an "overwhelming demand" for taxis that night -- both for the free rides and paying customers. On a good night, he said, the company might miss 4-5 percent of its calls. On New Year's Ever, Kines said, "we were fully staffed and we might have missed 18 percent of our calls."
Kines said that Tipsy?Taxi! service, which is financed by a state grant, went to the front of the line. "The paying customer waited longer than Tipsy?Taxi!," he said.
Avarella and Kines both said their organizations would look into the possibility of adding more people to answer calls on the lines dedicated to Tipsy?Taxi! use.
Maybe this is a service that can be fixed so that people can really rely on it. But the sponsors might also want to re-examine whether this is the best way to deliver the excellent message that taxis make a lot of sense for holiday revelers.
Rather than promote the notion of a free ride, perhaps the sponsors could deliver the message that a taxi -- even at the full fare -- is a great bargain compared with the cost of a drunk driving arrest or alcohol-related crash. The key may be to persuade people to take a cab at the beginning of the celebrations -- using vouchers, discounts, guaranteed pickups by the same company -- rather than counting on a tipsy person to have the presence of mind to summon a taxi once the drinks have begun to flow.