HILO — Inebriated revelers might have found it a little more difficult to snag a safe ride home on New Year’s Eve.
As part of Hawaii County’s efforts to prevent drunken driving during the holidays, the Mass Transit Authority had partnered in past years with police and area taxi companies to offer patrons of drinking establishments free coupons for rides home.
But this year, said Dieter Plattler, the Hawaii Police Department traffic safety coordinator who runs the program, the free coupons weren’t available.
“We had some trouble getting taxi companies interested,” he said. “We thought they would participate. We needed them to work until 2 o’clock in the morning, and that was too big of a hurdle for some taxi companies.”
He added that more than one company also balked at having to deal with drunk passengers.
“One said, ‘I don’t want to have anything to do with the drunks,’” Plattler said. “More than one felt that way.”
Plattler said the holiday program is an offshoot of the Mass Transit Authority’s year-round Shared Ride Taxi Program, which offers cab coupons to area residents at a reduced rate. It has been offered off and on during the holidays since 2006, whenever funding and participation from cab companies is available.
In 2009, the first year the program was available in Kona, cab drivers there collected 32 coupons, while 123 were collected in Hilo. Riders may use a combined maximum of two coupons for a ride home, with each one being good for a ride of up to 4 miles.
In 2010, Hilo riders used 40 of the coupons, and Kona riders used four. In 2011, Hilo used 56, and Kona used one.
When the program has been held, the free coupons are offered on weekends, Friday through Sunday, between Thanksgiving and the New Year, and are only available to inebriated patrons who are traveling to a private residence or hotel from a drinking establishment.
Plattler said he hopes the program can continue next year, because there are very few options available to help keep drunken drivers off Hawaii County roads.
“What alternatives do we have?” he asked. “Public transportation is very limited around the whole island. I’m not sure when Hele-On stops operating, but one of its policies is no intoxicated people are allowed on board, so even if it ran that late, and even if there was a bus right in front of the bar, a guy cannot take it.”
Plattler said that the funding for the program has come from various sources in years past, including the Hawaii County Prosecutor’s Office and the Police Department.
A police spokeswoman said Wednesday that numbers were not yet available on the number of DUI arrests made on New Year’s Eve.
However, between Dec. 17 and Dec. 23, police made 33 DUI arrests islandwide. That brought the total for 2012 to 1,459 arrests, with 1,416 during the same period last year, an increase of 3 percent. To date, 28 traffic fatalities on Hawaii Island were related to drugs, alcohol, or a combination of both.
For more information about the Holiday Shared Ride Taxi Program, Plattler can be contacted at 961-2226.
For more information on the Shared Ride program, visit heleonbus.org.