Merritt’s community effort to combat drinking and driving had a slow but positive start over the holiday season, says coordinator Jim Bruce.

Approximately five or six people at each of Merritt’s downtown bars utilized the Rudolph Rides program each night it was available, according to estimates from business owners.

Effective Friday and Saturday nights during December, Rudolph Rides offered patrons at participating bars with a bar bill of $20 or more a voucher for a half price taxi fare home.

The Middlesboro Pub, the Merritt Desert Inn, the Grand Pub and Grill and the Coldwater Bar teamed up with the local taxi services to offer the program aimed at getting patrons a safe ride home during the holidays.

“In talking to the business owners, it looks like the program has made a favourable impression,” said Bruce. “Five or six people a night is not a whole lot, but over time that is significant – five or six people who might have taken their own car home got home safely.”

The Grand Pub and Grill owner, Dana Egan, also said the Rudolph Rides program went well despite a late start.

“We thought about it late in the game, but I think it was a really positive experience,” she said. “It’s great that the taxi company came on board.”

Posters in each bar advertized the service and patrons let their servers know when they wanted to participate.

Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t like leaving their vehicles behind, said Egan, however, with better advertizing in advance people could use a taxi to arrive at the bar and then get the half price discount on the way home.

“I would do it again, and I’m sure that more restaurants might want to get involved,” said Egan.

As local patrons come to expect the service, Bruce says it is likely the program will continue next year and possibly expand.

“The downtown bars would like to see the service extended to things like that bike rally or music fest because the bars are pretty busy around that time of year,” he said.

When he introduced the program in early December, Bruce cited statistics that 10 per cent of people driving after 10 p.m. are impaired. He also referred to a University of Victoria report that indicated alcohol consumption in British Columbia has risen over the last decade and leads the rest of Canada.