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CASPER — Casper area bars will begin offering vouchers for free cab rides this week as part of a program designed to curb drunken driving.

The Tipsy Taxi service will be available year-round thanks to a partnership involving law enforcement, bar owners and cab companies, said Casper Police Chief Tom Pagel. The program was run on a trial basis during last year’s holiday season.

“We have a much too casual approach towards drinking in Wyoming, and Casper too,” Pagel said during a Monday press conference to announce the service. “This is an attempt to cut down on our drunk drivers.”

The vouchers will be distributed to bars over the next few days. Cabs will also carry the vouchers and residents can use them to get home from private parties.

Bar owners will be training their staffs to offer vouchers to patrons who’ve had too much to drink, program organizers said.

“We encourage everyone to drink responsibly,” Pagel said.

“If they find themselves in a situation where they are uncomfortable or unable to drive home, we strongly encourage them to contact a bar employee, get a voucher for Tipsy Taxi, and we will get you home.”

Organizers modeled the Tipsy Taxi program on a similar program in Pitkin County, Colo., that began in 1983. An evaluation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that injury crashes in Pitkin County declined by 15 percent after the program began.

Casper Cabs owner Tom Elliott said he alerted city officials to the Tipsy Taxi program after looking at various ways to cut down on drunken driving. He was also a driving force in last year’s trial program.

“It’s got to make a great difference,” he said. “There is no excuse to drink and drive now.”

Casper police will monitor the service, and bar owners and the taxi companies will also provide oversight, he added.

The program won’t run on public funding. Instead, it will rely on donations from alcohol prevention and nonprofit groups, as well as the Natrona County Liquor Dealers’ Association, which donated $10,000 to the effort on Monday. The partnership is also seeking private donations.

“We are going to have to have other means to support it down the road,” said association president Van Galloway.

Bars can’t be forced to participate in the program, but Galloway said most will use the service.

“We are not doing this to help the bars,” he said. “We are doing this to help the community and keep that drunk driver off that road.”

For more information on the program, visit www.caspertipsytaxi.com.

Last year, Casper police made 602 drunken-driving arrests — an all-time high for the city. Arrests for driving under the influence have increased by more than 60 percent since 2005.

Contact Joshua Wolfson at 307-266-0582 or at josh.wolfson@trib.com.

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