Designated driver services don’t get the love they deserve, says entrepreneur Mike Bird. We all know what it means to call a taxi, or summon Uber. But a designated driver? “It could be your uncle Ernie, who isn’t drinking tonight and who agrees to drive you around.” Or it could be a service like Safe Ride, which provides professional drivers to take you and your car home safely after you’ve been out drinking.
Mike Bird wants to be included in government messaging about drunk driving. Taxis are rideshare services are top-of-mind, but people in Saskatoon and Regina should be aware that a service like Safe Ride exists, and generally they aren’t.
Designated Driver Services: Advertising or Education?
SGI, which is tasked with discouraging drunk driving in the province, is a crown corporation and as such is not permitted to assist a profit-making entity in any way. Bird says that assistance is not the point; he believes that concept of designated driver services should be introduced to the public. And while SGI does not advertise any particular taxi company, they have run images of taxis to make the point. “We just want to talk about the availability of the service. Cabs are mentioned often.”
Bird started the company, then called Zero 8, in Saskatoon eight years ago, after working with a long-established Calgary company which provided similar services. There was no paid-for service in Saskatchewan at the time.
Changing Saskatchewan’s Impaired Driving Habits
“We started it here for two reasons: the economy was booming, and Saskatchewan was number 1 in every category related to impaired driving in Canada. That’s odd considering the province’s relatively small population.
Bird was greeted with skepticism by people who thought Saskatchewan’s drinking and driving culture was baked in. And it’s true that impaired driving has been socially acceptable there for a century. “If you grew up in rural Saskatchewan, you saw Grandma and Grandpa drive around with a case of pilsner in their pickup. Kids who go from that environment to the big city carry those nasty habits with them.”
However, the last eight years has proved the skeptics wrong, Bird thinks. “Our company has been able to accomplish over 80,000 trips. Those are a lot of potentially saved lives.”
Safe Ride has operations in Saskatoon and Regina, and is looking to expand in the latter city if it can find more qualified drivers. But Bird calls himself a social entrepreneur, and his business a social enterprise. “Our values are people, planet, profit in that order.” And the high cost of operating the service will keep profit in the background. “The joy in this business is the lives saved. That’s how I keep score.”
While the removal of impaired drivers from the streets of Regina and Saskatoon is paramount, convenience is another selling point that is unique to DD services – no need to worry about overnight parking fines, or having a vehicle vandalized. “You wake up with the car in the driveway, the licence in the wallet. Nobody cries, nobody dies.” An app is in the works which will add to the convenience by letting customers track the approach of their ride.
The presence of a DD service might have saved lives, but it has not changed SK’s drinking culture. Mike Bird’s desire to get SGI to pay more attention to designated driver services is rooted in the need to keep drunk drivers off to roads. “Nobody is getting fabulously wealthy but we’re making an impact on safety.“
It’s that impact that Mike Bird believes the government should promote better than it has.
“This service needs to be in every town and city that will support it. It saves lives – it’s a no-brainer. “
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