2017-01-05 / Views

Getting home would be easier with Uber

A column by Jay Bushen

A story written by Patti Brandt Burgess in last week’s Enterprise shed light on what ought to be an alarming trend in Leelanau County: an uptick in drunk driving arrests.

The number of such arrests, according to the Leelanau County Sheriff’s Office, increased at least 30 percent last year — from 87 in 2015 to 111 through Dec. 17. What’s worse is alcohol-related accidents also increased, from 23 in 2015 to 30 through Christmas Eve.

In a land flowing with wine and cider, it’s clear we have a problem.

I agree with Leelanau County Sheriff Mike Borkovich’s take on societal problems with substance abuse. Big-picture solutions, in my mind, start there. I’d be willing to wager alcoholism and addiction lead to the majority of drunk driving arrests, although I can’t help but wonder how many arrests involved first-time offenders. I also can’t help but wonder how many buzzed or drunk drivers weren’t pulled over. How many locals and tourists mindlessly got behind the wheel after consuming three glasses of beer, cider, wine or all of the above?

Those questions led to another: Why doesn’t Traverse City have Uber?

Downstate and in cities across the globe, Uber has become all the rage. The smartphone app simplifies the taxi-hailing process using GPS coordinates of consumers and Uber drivers, automatically calculating fares and empowering ride seekers like never before.

The app also helps to “curb drunk driving” because, according to the company website, “when you can get a ride at the tap of a button, it’s easy to leave the keys at home and make the responsible decision at the end of the night.” I’m not a paid spokesperson of Uber, nor am I interested in buckling into one of the company’s self-driving cars in the near future, but I think Uber could make the Grand Traverse area safer. I’ve only Ubered on a handful of occasions, but most of my friends in Grand Rapids have the app installed and use it for all the right reasons.

Seventeen of those friends came up to Traverse City for the weekend and — although all of us appreciated a free night of New Year’s Eve taxi rides courtesy of the Alert Cab Program — the area’s lack of Uber was brought to my attention on a handful of occasions.

One of my best friends, who has dabbled in the Uber-driving industry, even pointed out that he’s driven customers from Grand Rapids to a slew of surrounding areas like Ada, Comstock Park, Wyoming and even Cutlerville. In other words, it’s not unrealistic to think Traverse City drivers could make their way to Leelanau County during the heavily trafficked busy season.

Is it crazy to think those friendly neighborhood Uber drivers might keep a few more buzzed drivers from taking an unnecessary risk? I don’t think so.

The service is currently available in 549 cities worldwide. Among them are Ann Arbor, Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Lansing. Is Traverse City next on the list?

I asked Uber that question via email last week and received the following response: “Thanks so much for reaching out. On background, our General Manager is constantly evaluating the market for opportunities for expansion. We don’t have any updates to share specifically about Traverse City at this time — but I can keep you posted on when / if that changes. Cheers…”

I’ll do the same for you.

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