Thursday, March 20, 2008

Shuttle Earns Law Enforcement Praise

By Nao Braverman
Frank Harwood goes out much more on weekends now that he doesn’t have to drive. Dutch VanHemert will pick him up near his house or even at his door if he leaves a tip.
“What do you do in Ojai without a bus or a taxi?” asks Harwood. “If you have one or two drinks you’re a sitting duck for DUI.”
On its eighth weekend today, Ojai’s designated driver service has been a success so far, according to its originators.
Jump-started by Nigel Chisholm, owner of The Village Jester, and Dutch Detail’s VanHemert, local restaurants have pooled funds to hire VanHemert as a weekend shuttle service.
In an effort to help community members enjoy a safe and legal night on the town, the service runs hourly on Fridays and Saturdays from 7 p.m. to 2:30 a.m, transporting passengers to various stops throughout the valley for free.
In an early meeting among participating restaurant owners, the new transportation service was dubbed the Downtown Shuttle. VanHemert, who also uses the vehicle to run an airport shuttle during the week, is getting magnetic signs that spell the designated driver service’s new name to be displayed on the vehicle on weekend nights.
So far there are nine participating establishments; The Emerald Iguana Inn, The Blue Iguana Inn, Suzanne’s Cuisine, Feast Bistro, Auberge at Ojai, Q-Time BBQ and Sports Grill, Azu, Antonio’s and The Village Jester are all pooling funds to pay for costs so that the service is free for passengers, according to VanHemert. The Hub and Sakura are still undecided, and the Deer Lodge and Il Giardino’s have dropped out, he said.
The Downtown Shuttle stops at locations throughout the Valley including most of the downtown bars and restaurants, but VanHemert said he will pick people up and drop them off at home for free with a suggested gratuity.
With about 275 passengers since its inception, and 70 to 80 the weekend before St. Patrick’s Day, according to VanHemert, the shuttle has been getting plenty of use, likely taking a number of intoxicated locals off the roads.
The California Highway Patrol made 1,635 DUI arrests in the west side of Ventura County in 2007, according to California Highway Patrol Officer Shawna Davison. And the Ojai Valley saw 32 DUI-related car accidents in that time period. Since the new year there have already been six DUI related accidents in the valley, she said.
“You look at a corner on Ojai Avenue on any given weekend and there is a police car waiting,” said Harwood. He is much more comfortable going out riding the new Downtown Shuttle than taking the chance.
“Dutch has been doing a good job, he has a good, safe vehicle and drives safely,” he said.
You don’t have to be intoxicated to use the new transportation service, however. It is ideal for out-of-towners, in Ojai for the weekend who want to grab a bite to eat. Local resident Bill Loehr, who said that he doesn’t go out very often, took the shuttle one weekend when he had an eye infection and couldn’t drive.
Chisholm said that so far he feels the service has been extremely successful. And although he has handed the management of the designated driver service over to VanHemert, he continues to participate, and hopes it will continue on past the trial period.
“I think it’s tremendous for the community,” said Ojai Police Sgt. Maureen Hookstra. “It’s certainly something we’ve needed for a long time and I hope it continues.”


Henrik said...

Respect and a thank you all the restaurants and businesses in Ojai that made this possible. It makes the traffic saver and it makes it possible to go out and have some fun without the fear of getting arrested

Anonymous said...

Yeah. That's what they do around here. They just arrest people for having fun.

They don't arrest people for getting so drunk that they kill people when they selfishly and stupidly jump in their car and try to drive home when they're too drunk to even walk -- they just arrest people for having fun. That's what they do.

Henrik said...

Don't change my words. I still think that it is good that you have now a save way to get home.
I am sure that you must like it too if there are less drivers on the road that had a few beers.

Anonymous said...

I am sure that you must like it too if there are less drivers on the road that had a few beers.

You bet.