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OT County a part of safe, sober ride pilot program

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Rural communities in Otter Tail County may have more public transportation options by this time next year, thanks to a new program from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

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After a recent announcement that Otter Tail County was one of Minnesota's 13 most dangerous drunk driving counties for the second year in a row, the county was asked to be one of four counties to pilot a new program called "Joyride."

"Joyride is a toolkit that is being piloted by the state of Minnesota for communities that want to develop a safe ride program," said Jane Patrick, coordinator of the Safe Communities Coalition of Otter Tail County. "It's a collection of resources that help communities get started."

The Safe CommunitiesCoalition agreed to participate in the year-long pilot program, working with city and county officials as well as bar owners and liquor distributors to combat the deadly problem of drunk driving.

The ultimate goal of the program is to reduce the rate of drunk driving by increasing number of sober transportation options.

The Safe Communities Coalition officially began the Joyride program in November. They held their first meeting with stakeholders on Dec. 12.

The Joyride program, "looks at the best options that are out there" and works with each community to meet specific needs, Patrick said. "It's ideal for rural communities with little or no transportation options."

For example one possibility would be for the cost of transportation to be split four ways - amongst bar owners, liquor distributers, the city and the person using the ride.

With this option, a cab ride that would normally cost $20 for the rider would cost a more affordable $5.

Another option could be similar to The Last Leg Shuttle in Erhard and Elizabeth, which costs nothing for riders returning home by 10 p.m., because the bars in both towns agreed to pick up the tab for safe transportation.

A newly formed committee will continue conversations with local governments as well as bar owners in an effort to decipher exactly what each community needs.

"We are hoping to have options by next summer, but we have one year to get something started," Patrick said. "So far, we are very pleased with the process. There seems to be a lot of interest."

At the end of 2013, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety will look at the progress in Otter Tail County and make any necessary changes or adjustments to the Joyride program.

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