Local bars participating in taxi voucher program for New Year's Eve

Tony Casey • Dec 30, 2015 at 5:10 PM

Many people across the Tri-Cities will hit downtown Johnson City — a place with a dozen or so tightly-packed, alcohol-serving establishments — on New Year’s Eve.

Aside from having a good time, their universal goal is to get home safe and sound at the end of the night — or early hours of the morning.

Johnson City’s own Holston Distributing Company is helping potentially impaired drivers get home from the bars with their Bud Light Alert Cab program, which offers a $10 taxi cab voucher to anyone who needs one. Bartenders have them and are able to give them to anyone who asks.

Chris Ivanich, who works with Holston Distributing and its alcohol supplier Anheuser-Busch on corporate social responsibility, has given these vouchers to just about every alcohol-serving bar and restaurant in Johnson City’s downtown. Working with the local W.W. Cab Company, the Alert Cab program allows bartenders to sign off on a voucher, which is also signed by a taxi driver to document a starting and dropping off point for any impaired passenger.

If the cost of the ride home exceeds $10, that extra amount is picked up by the passenger, but Ivanich said many who celebrate in downtown Johnson City are coming from somewhere within the limits of a $10 ride radius. All of this is made available by the sale of beer through the distributors, which helps them fulfill their social responsibility missions.

Holston Distributing issued $2,000 worth of $10 vouchers to be used this year.

“There’s an amount of money per case we sell that we put toward special programs like that,” Ivanich said.

The goal of Alert Cab — which has been used in another alcohol-friendly downtown Johnson City event, the Blue Plum Festival, where 28 rides were given — is to help reduce the number of inebriated drivers on the road, and ultimately the number of drunk driving fatalities.

“$10 gets them a long away,” said W.W. Taxi Company owner Walt Whaley. “People will only have to pay a couple more bucks to get home with the vouchers, but most of the people will get a free ride home. We would just like to thank Holston Distributing and the people of the Tri-Cities for making it possible.”

Like W.W. Cab, Kingsport’s Cabbie Cab company is heading the program for that city.

From Dec. 18 through Jan. 2, the voucher program has become a Tri-Cities staple around the holiday season for those who celebrate with alcohol.

While it’s been a popular program, one downtown bar and restaurant owner marveled that it’s not more frequently used when made available.

Jamie Dove, who owns the Main Street Pizza Company in downtown Johnson City and downtown Kingsport, said his bartenders will be stocked with vouchers.

“We push it a little bit,” Dove said, admitting to pressuring his customers to be as safe as possible. “I'm surprised at how few people take advantage of that program. It's a really good program.”

Both Main Street Pizza Company locations will be ready for the busy night. Dove said his respective staffs are ready to serve their customers throughout the night and early morning of the first day of 2016. Another precautionary business opportunity Dove shares is their kitchen’s ability to put out food until they close at around 3 a.m., which helps sober up customers.

And if the potential of an alcohol-fueled fatality isn’t reason enough to not get behind of the wheel of a car, those who celebrate with alcohol should consider the fact that the Johnson City Police Department will be joining law enforcement agencies across the country to crack down on drunk drivers.

As part of the “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign, through the Governor’s Highway Safety Office, the JCPD will conduct high visibility saturation patrols throughout the weekend. During the 2014 New Year’s holiday weekend, the JCPD made five driving while impaired arrests.

Email Tony Casey at [email protected]. Follow Tony Casey on Twitter @TonyCaseyJCP. Like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tonycaseyjournalist.

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