As Waco residents ring in the new year this weekend, the Waco Transit System will once again offer a lifeline to keep the streets clear of drunken drivers.
Waco Transit’s 13th annual Safe Ride Home program will offer free shuttles to New Year’s events and back home between 6 p.m. and 3 a.m. Sunday, according to a press release from the transportation system.
“It’s just about offering people a safe alternative,” Waco Transit General Manager Allen Hunter said.
McLennan County had 261 alcohol-related crashes in 2016, according to the latest data available from the Texas Department of Transportation. Of those, seven were fatal.
Statewide last year, about one in four deaths on Texas roads between Dec. 1 and Jan. 1 were alcohol related, according to a TxDOT press release. There were 2,321 alcohol-related crashes during that time, according to TxDOT.
“Tragically, there are many families who experience the holidays without a loved one due to a drunk driver,” TxDOT executive director James Bass said in the press release. “We need to remember that each time someone dies or is seriously injured on our roadways, it affects a family and an entire community. Don’t make a bad decision that could cause heartache for your family and others. Make a plan to get home safely. It could save lives.”
But Hunter said Waco Transit’s Safe Ride Home event this year might be different than years past, because New Year’s Eve celebrations fall on a Sunday night. More people are likely to stay home or go to private parties instead of local bars, he said.
Attendance has also fluctuated since the start of the program, said Hunter, who has been with the transit system for 13 years and started as general manager in October. Last year, Safe Ride Home served 133 people, and two years ago it served 97, he said. But the program served 323 people in 2011, 310 in 2010, 357 in 2009 and 285 in 2008, according to Tribune-Herald records.
The drop in the number of people taking advantage of the service may be because there are more options for safe rides available in Waco than there used to be, he said. But as long as the Safe Ride Home program has sponsors, Waco Transit will continue to offer the service, he said.
The Sparkle and Shine New Year’s Eve party, hosted by arts space Cultivate 7twelve and Luna Juice Bar will also offer sober rides home, provided by Sunshine Recovery Homes.
And the Milo Biscuit Company + Wine Shoppe New Year’s Eve celebration will be partnering with Uber to offer ride shares to and from the event.
“It’s not a competition,” Hunter said of the alternatives to Waco Transit’s Safe Ride Home. “We’re excited to see other opportunities out there to offer more choices.”
Safe Ride Home shuttle rides should be scheduled in advance by calling 750-1620, but same-day requests will be accepted based on availability. Group bookings are available, and Waco Transit will send whatever size vehicle is necessary to pick up everyone, he said. No group is too big or too small, he said.
The Safe Ride Home shuttle operates in Waco’s urbanized area, and residents can also call 750-1620 to find out whether transportation will be available to their residence or event.
For partygoers who find themselves unexpectedly needing a ride, Tow King will also offer free vehicle tows between 6 p.m. Sunday and 3 a.m. Monday.
Those in need of a tow can either call Tow King directly at 666-5484 or by coordinating with Waco Transit, Hunter said.
“As long as we get one person home safe, as far as I’m concerned it’s a success,” he said.