Columbia sober ride services aim to curb drunk driving

Friday, September 17, 2010 | 6:01 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Every weekend, hundreds of drinkers pour out of Columbia's bars looking for a safe ride home.

Two sober ride services — STRIPES and Zingo MU — are working to improve the available options.

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STRIPES, which offers free rides to MU students, is receiving $12,000 from a Missouri Department of Transportation grant given to MU's Wellness Resource Center, STRIPES director Matt Wheeler said.

The goal is to use the money to increase the number of cars in STRIPES’ fleet from 10 to 16 over the next three semesters, Wheeler said.

“In the last three weekends, we have set and broken multiple records for volume,” he said. “This past Saturday, we gave one MU student a ride home every minute from 10 p.m. till 4:30 a.m.”

The popularity of the service often makes it a challenge for students who call late at night to get rides.

“Every night, the wait times get upwards of two hours ... and that’s when people (calling for rides) hang up the phone,” Wheeler said.

Although STRIPES will be able to increase the number of students it serves, Wheeler said he doesn't expect wait times to change.

Though Zingo doesn't offer the same free-ride system as STRIPES, it does provide an exclusive service in Columbia — employees drive your car home for you.

After a summer break, Zingo will resume giving rides Saturday night.

Here's how it works: A person needing a ride calls Zingo, and an employee riding a Di Blasi motorbike will come to meet the customer at his or her car. The 64-pound folding bike is packed into the trunk, and the employee drives the customer home.

Drivers usually arrive within 15 minutes of a customer’s call, said owner Jon Gray, but depending on distance and time of night, waits can reach up to 30 minutes. He recommends calling an hour in advance to request a ride.

The cost for a ride is $5 for an initial pickup and an additional $1.25 per minute.

When temperatures drop, Zingo will begin using cars instead of motorbikes, Gray said. Two employees will drive to meet customers, and one will drive the customer’s vehicle while the other will follow in a Zingo car.

Gray said he believes people's not wanting to leave their cars behind for the night is a cause of many DWIs, which motivated him to start Zingo MU in 2009.

Another reason was his response to a friend’s death in an alcohol-related car accident.

“This isn't a job that I thought I would get rich doing,” he said, “but personally seeing how DWIs can ruin a friend’s life, I think this is a job worth doing.”

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