Taxi stand provides place for tipsy to get cabs
"Last Call" program is the first in the country to evaluate whether promoting a taxi stand to bar patrons reduces alcohol-related crashes among the 21-to-34-year-old age group.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Bar owners and public-health researchers are making it easier to nab a cab in Seattle — and discourage drunken people from driving.
A taxi stand began operating Nov. 30 in Fremont across from the Red Door Ale House. The special parking spot gives taxi drivers almost a sure bet they'll hook a customer. And stickers in men's urinals in Fremont bars show a cab in a bull's-eye under the phrase, "Aim to get home safely."
The cabs aren't free, just readily available; it's strictly buy-your-own-ride home.
The taxi stand, on Evanston Avenue North and North 34th Street, runs Thursdays to Saturdays from 11:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. Cabs circulate frequently at the stand.
The "Last Call" project, a partnership between the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center and Public Health — Seattle & King County, is the first in the country to evaluate whether promoting a taxi stand to bar patrons reduces alcohol-related crashes among the 21-to-34-year-old age group, its biggest killer, said project director Dr. Fred Rivara.
"If we can make a difference here, then other people around the country can copy it," Rivara said of Last Call, which is funded by a $1 million, three-year grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Project organizers hope to add taxi stands in Belltown, Capitol Hill and Pioneer Square over the next four months.
On a recent night at the Red Door, the tables were mostly filled by young patrons, some from the nearby offices of Getty Images and Adobe Systems, enjoying beers.
Several said they don't have to wait more than 15 minutes for a cab to get home, but were pleased to hear they might not have to call for a cab in the future.
Mike Maiura, 38, hangs out at the Red Door after his bartending shift ends at The Matador in West Seattle. On a typical Friday or Saturday night in Fremont, it's the college fraternity crowd that tends to dominate the scene, shouting and knocking over signs, he said.
"They will drive even after drinking," Maiura said.
The Last Call project surveyed people in Seattle in the 21-to-34-year-old age group and found that nearly one of five chose Fremont as their second-favorite drinking destination, after Capitol Hill but ahead of Belltown.
When they drink, these patrons aren't just sipping. About 44 percent typically have more than two drinks, and one-third of men usually have more than four drinks, the survey found. Nearly one in five reported driving after drinking too much in the past month.
When they need a ride home, some patrons say it can take a long time to get a cab in certain neighborhoods, even Fremont. Despite its popularity with survey participants, cabdrivers may not see that neighborhood as flush with prospective fares.
"Taxi drivers will go where the business is, so if you're a bar down in Pioneer Square, I'll almost guarantee that you don't have a lot of people waiting for taxis," says Frank Dowgwilla, general manager of Puget Sound Dispatch.
"[In] Fremont there's not a lot of business, so guess what? There's not a lot of taxis out there."
In King County, nearly 4,700 young people were arrested for driving under the influence in 2004, according to Last Call.
Pete Hanning, managing partner of the Red Door, put together a focus group of about a dozen young patrons to give the project's researchers some insights into their drinking behaviors.
One patron said, "What are the chances of me running into a cop in five blocks?"
Hanning said the taxi stand is in a place that's well lit, safe and sheltered so people can wait in line. In addition to the Red Door, bars supporting the campaign include The Fremont Dock, The George & Dragon Pub, High Dive, Nectar, Norm's Eatery & Ale House and Paradox.
Safeco and the Washington Restaurant Association's Seattle chapter also are sponsors.
By offering cabdrivers coffee and donuts, getting the word out to bartenders and including reminders with patrons' checks, Last Call campaign organizers hope patrons will get more familiar with the purpose of the taxi stand, Hanning said.
"We'd like to see more cabs" in the city late at night, he said.
As part of its awareness campaign, Last Call is sponsoring a video contest on YouTube, a leading video-sharing Web site.
Last Call will award $500 to the best 60-second video aimed at persuading viewers to designate a driver or hail a cab to get home after barhopping. For details, go to its Web site, www.lastcallseattle.org.
"We're not trying to be teetotalers here and say 'don't drink,' " Rivara said. "We just want them to get home safe."
Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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