NAUGATUCK — The number of options available in Naugatuck to get home safely after a night out on the town will grow by one before too long.
The Naugatuck Police Department and the Naugatuck Economic Development Corporation are working with local bar and restaurant owners to develop a Safe Rides program in Naugatuck through Uber, a ride-service in which drivers sign up with the company to provide rides that people can order with a cellphone app.
“What we’re trying to do is very simple. We want to protect all of you and we want to protect our citizens,” NEDC President and CEO Ronald Pugliese told the nine representatives of Naugatuck bars and restaurants that came to the police department Sept. 8 for an initial discussion on the program.
At its roots, the program would offer safe rides home from borough bars and restaurants for people who are too drunk to drive, though it’s possible more will be offered. The rides would be ordered through Uber and some, if not all, of the cost would be covered by a fund overseen by the NEDC, a quasi-public agency.
The way Pugliese envisions the program working is that Uber would invoice the NEDC. He said Ion Bank has already committed to donating funds for the program and he plans to continue trying to raise money. It’s possible bar and restaurant owners will pitch in as well, and the discussion included potentially holding fundraisers to supplement the program.
The catalyst for starting the program was a recent meeting between police officials and bar and restaurant owners at which the owners expressed concerns about the department’s zealous enforcement of drunk driving laws and the impact it was having on customers’ perceptions, Police Chief Christopher Edson said.
From Jan. 1 to Sept. 8, the police department made 151 driving under the influence arrests, according to police spokesman Lt. Bryan Cammarata. Last year, the department made 210 DUI arrests, he said.
“We thought, well how can we accomplish both ends — reduce drunk driving, but also give your businesses an opportunity to attract customers,” Edson said.
Edson said police officials talked with John Migliore, the owner of 66 Church. Migliore has been paying for Uber rides home for customers who are too drunk to drive since St. Patrick’s Day.
“It seemed like a really good fit for this community,” Edson said.
It’s not a matter of if Naugatuck launches a Safe Rides program, but what shape it will take.
“The logistics of it are really what we need to try to put together,” police Sgt. Colin McAllister said.
Britta Mulderrig, senior marketing manager for Uber Connecticut, said there are variety of ways the program can be structured: rides can be offered only during certain times on certain days, the cost of a ride could be covered up to a certain dollar amount, rides could be to and from only participating bars and restaurants, and the number of rides used by a person could be limited.
“There’s a lot of different things you can put in place to figure out what makes the most sense,” Mulderrig said.
Mulderrig offered two contrasting programs as examples.
The Wayne’s Walk Foundation, a nonprofit organization, launched a Safe Rides program in February in Stratford. The way this program works, she explained, is people can request rides through the program with a specific option on the app on Fridays and Saturdays between 7 p.m. and 3 a.m. The rides must begin and end in Stratford and the program pays up to $10 for the ride, she said. Anything over $10 is paid by the rider.
The town of Evesham, N.J. launched its own program last year after seeing an increase in DUIs, she said. This program offers rides home to residents leaving participating bars and restaurants in the township between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m.
Mulderrig suggested Naugatuck start with a pilot program, then evaluate it to see what makes sense.
The details of the program still need to be ironed out and Pugliese is hopeful it can be up and running before the holiday season.
Pugliese emphasized that the program isn’t an economic development venture by the NEDC. It’s about protecting residents and businesses, he said.
“We increase business and we get people home safely, then everybody wins. The clear goal for this is to make everybody safe.”
The program was greeted with enthusiasm.
Augie Gomes, trustee at the Naugatuck Eagles Club, and Denis Levasseur, the club’s bar manager, said the club uses Uber all the time to get rides home for people. They both feel the program is a worthwhile idea.
“I want to make sure our community’s safe,” Gomes said.