Friday, April 16, 2010

Drunk Driving and Creative Transit Funding

So my wife and I were talking about drunk driving and alternative transportation while waiting for the 16 today (to go pick up a ZipCar- we're just an alt-transport couple like that), and I was telling her that, while drunk drivers are certainly irresponsible and should be punished, they're just a symptom of a larger problem with our society. I don't have the statistics to back this up, but I suspect that drunk driving fatalities are probably significantly lower, per capita, in large cities with extensive 'round-the-clock transit networks like New York or San Francisco. (If anyone has city or county-level data on the subject, let me know- Google keeps giving me links to attorneys.) The fact is that, after going out for a night on the town, in most cities there are few options for getting home afterwards. Designating a driver is, of course, the responsible choice, but being the designated driver sucks so very, very much. Calling a taxi is always an option, but taxis are not cheap. (UCR students- if you are out drinking and need to call a cab, you can do so free of charge anywhere in the City of Riverside, by calling 951-UCR-TAXI [951-827-8294].) Cycling is subject to the same DUI penalties (CVC 21200.5) as driving. (Commenter Peter notes that penalties for cycling under the influence may be significantly less than driving under the influence. It's still at least a $250 fine, so still not a recommended option.) That leaves walking, and that's a great option if you live within walking distance of your local watering hole, but that's rare in Riverside. (Also, if you're near UCR, you can take the late-night #53 shuttle, but only Monday-Thursday. I will confess to having used said route to bar-hop.) So, while it remains reprehensible behaviour, it is understandable why some people feel the urge to drink and drive.

Of course, our transit system is in dire funding straits, and late-night service is simply not an option for RTA at the moment, and general taxation is a hard sell in this area under even good economic times. So what's to be done?

I propose that the City impose an excise tax on drinks served in restaurants and bars- nothing excessively large, but $0.05 per serving of alcohol should do. (A serving is a pint of beer, a glass of wine, or an ounce of hard liquor.) This would add a nickel to the price of a pint or a glass of wine, 18 cents to a 60oz pitcher, and 13 cents to each martini- probably not enough of a difference that anyone would cut back on their alcohol consumption, but enough to scare up a bit of funding. This funding would be reserved for public transit service, and transit agencies could only tap into the funding if they run service past last call (2am here). The public has consistently shown support for "sin taxes"- look at the continually rising excise taxes on cigarettes, and yet another initiative raising them looks poised to pass this fall. Restaurateurs and barkeeps would be permitted to simply add the extra nickel to each drink (as if they wouldn't anyway) and send in the proceeds with their ordinary sales tax receipts. Those who pay the tax would receive direct benefits in the form of safe, reliable transportation home after a night out. Implemented properly, this policy might even increase sales at bars and restaurants- no more need for one member of the party to remain stubbornly sober, and a flood of car-free collegiate beer drinkers headed downtown to party.

Now, I'm not certain of all of the legal issues surrounding the implementation of this sort of plan, or even if such a tax would raise enough money to pay for late-night transit service. (I can't imagine a skeletal late-night network would cost that much, all things considered, but I have been wrong before.) However, in these budgetary times it's important to be creative while looking for ways to improve our transportation system and urban environment, and it's at least worth a shot.

What do you all think?


JN said...

Below I'm going to post the comments that some of my friends made on my Facebook when this blog post got cross-posted over there. I think this proposal has some possibility to it. Names have been anonymized, and K W is NOT the k that usually comments on this blog. Enjoy!

This is really well thought out-
Have you looked through CGP documents? I've seen some good aggregate information in there on drunk driving...

If I get the chance I will go through some of those reports again-
April 17 at 7:18pm

I really like the idea. I *HATE* to be the designated driver. I would think that that sort of tax, and also, if public transit would market the hell out of the fact that they are your new designated-driving service would make the whole thing work well in areas like Riverside. It'd probably work fabulous in any town that was big enough to have a ... See Morecollege, really.
It's hard to say what the late night buses would cost, but think about how many other good reasons there are to have a late night service, like people who work later...
April 17 at 7:50pm ·

One possible side-effect is people might drink more than they otherwise would (despite the sin tax). I know I, for one, drink more when I'm in Osaka because I don't have to drive anywhere (their public transportation is, as you would imagine, wonderful).

It would also help everyone if there was a bullet train to Vegas. Get drunk and sober up while blasting through the Mojave.
April 18 at 9:20am ·

Justin Nelson
@T- I'd actually count on that. Passing a new tax on business is never a happy thing for most business owners- being able to say it'll actually increase their sales would work towards gaining their support.

@J- CGP? Link?

@K- The reason I mention this is because late-night bus service is an awesome thing for everybody, especially low-... See Morewage service industry workers who often have to walk several miles home in the middle of the night. It's also great for nightlife. If we can accomplish both and fund it all on the back of the copious amounts of flowing liquor, it's win-win.
April 18 at 12:22pm

J D Catalog of U.S. Government Publications (CGP)-
Here is the general search link:

This might be helpful- but aggregate national data is what I had been looking i apologize if it doesn't have what your looking far, but they were intriguing documents to me...
April 18 at 12:35pm ·

Peter said...

Cycling is subject to the same DUI penalties (CVC 21200.5) as driving.

are you sure about this?

JN said...

CVC 21200 states: "Every person riding a bicycle upon a highway has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this division, including, but not limited to, provisions concerning driving under the influence of alcoholic beverages or drugs..."

CVC 21200.5 then further stipulates, seemingly unnecessarily, that biking under the influence is illegal.

I think the only real difference in how this law is applied would be the breakdown of implied consent if the cyclist is not a licensed driver.

Of course, IANAL. Check the vehicle code for yourself. The relevant sections are:

Peter said...

JN - u said ui cycling is subject to the "same penalties" as ui driving. i don't think that is correct -- that's my point.

JN said...


That's my reading of CVC 21200- if a provision of the vehicle code imposes a penalty on a driver for drunk driving, that penalty is ALSO imposed upon a cyclist.

A cyclist who was not a licensed driver (and most are) could possibly get away with biking under the influence, because I think they could refuse to take a breathalyzer test, but even that I'm not certain of. That doesn't mean the penalties for drunk driving aren't the same for him- it just means that it's harder for the state to prove their case.

As I said, I'm not a lawyer, I may be wrong about this one. If you've evidence to the contrary, please let me know.

Peter said...

That's my reading of CVC 21200- if a provision of the vehicle code imposes a penalty on a driver for drunk driving, that penalty is ALSO imposed upon a cyclist.

i think that could be true for certain states, but i didn't think it was true for Cali, and most of what i can find on the internets suggests that the penalties are very different (b/c in Cali, they are different crimes) -- i.e. CUI penalties are much different and much less severe than DUI penalties -- as i would hope.

this is one snippet -- all the website say similar things:

A conviction of violating the California cycling under the influence statute subjects the violator to a base fine of $250.00. This is substantially less than the fines imposed for DUI cases involving "vehicles".

here's a link to some DUI-type penalties.

too lazy to try to find official penalty/sentencing guidelines - i'm guessing they've got to exist somewhere.

noting -- i don't actually think DUI penalties are 'severe'.

JN said...

Fair enough. Post edited.

It doesn't change the argument of the post- cycling under the influence is still illegal, so biking home from the bar is still out of the question.

Peter said...

cycling under the influence is still illegal, so biking home from the bar is still out of the question.

so is jaywalking and a whole bunch of other stuff.

to each their own.