It’s Saturday night in Santa Fe and I’m out drinking. Closing time is approaching—it’s near 2 am—and I need to get home, but I have too much bourbon in my belly to drive.
I dial the number for the only cab company in town (an antiquated law gives Capital City Cab a monopoly) and a disciplined voice greets me. He asks where I need to be picked up.
“Matador,” I say.
“Gimme five minutes and I’ll be right over,” he politely responds.
The cab ride is part of Santa Fe County’s Chauffeur and Designated Driver program (CADDy), which subsidizes weekend cab rides. The program, an attempt to curb drunk driving, has gone through many iterations since it kicked off six years ago; the latest is $1 cab rides on Friday and Saturday nights.
The driver, who wears a black leather jacket and a brown cowboy hat and looks like Garrett Morris with lighter skin, pulls up in front of the downtown bar in less than five minutes.
I get in the cab, but before we can speak to each other, he gets a call from Dawn, who’s at a bar in the Railyard and needs a cab for herself and her friends. Her voice indicates that she, like me, has had too much to drink to safely drive home. But I think I keep my composure better than she does.
“I don’t wanna stand up!” I overhear her saying to her friends while she’s on the phone with the cabbie. She also demands that he call her when he arrives to pick her group up.
After they hang up, the cabbie explains that he’s also the overnight dispatcher. I tell him I’m a reporter, to which he responds with reserve, noting that I have to clear interviews through his management. He won’t give me his name (Capital City Cab didn’t return my phone calls for this story).
“How many calls have you had tonight?” I ask.
“I had quite a few pickups tonight,” he responds quietly.
“How many would you say? Five, 10, a dozen?”
“I’d say quite a few,” he repeats.
It continues like this for a while, until he finally gives in with a compromise.
“I can tell you basic things that have already been in the paper,” he says.
Namely: The CADDy program costs riders just $1 each for every Friday night and Saturday night ride up to $25. The county pays for the rest as long as the ride costs less than $25; if it’s more, the customer pays the difference. Last year, CADDy gave 13,000 rides and cost taxpayers roughly $150,000.
Lupe Sanchez, the Santa Fe County DWI Program coordinator, says he expects the price tag to be the same this year, despite changes to the program. So far, CADDy is on track to meet last year’s numbers, with roughly 6,330 rides between July and December. Sanchez says that equals around 115-120 rides per night.
The cab metering, however, is average. My home is two miles from the Matador, an $8.93 trip. Passengers in need of a longer ride, be warned that you may have to pay the difference.
It’s also unclear how much the program is doing to reduce DWI offenses.
“I would like to think it is,” Sanchez says, but adds that it’s hard to gauge since the county supports other DWI initiatives, including funding two public awareness campaigns and helping sponsor monthly DWI checkpoints, where police and state patrol officers man an intersection, stopping every car to ask drivers if they’ve had anything to drink.
“It is multifaceted,” Lisa Kelloff, president of Safer New Mexico Now, says of tackling DWI. “There’s education, prevention, law enforcement, media.”
At least one thing’s clear: Overall DWI arrests in the county have decreased since CADDy launched in 2007. That year, there were around 1,270 arrests. In 2011, that number fell to 1,096, although the drop wasn’t consistent over the years—DWI arrests jumped to 1,333 in 2008, for instance.
Another plus: preliminary statistics show that drunken driving-related deaths in the county dropped to seven in 2011, from a high of 20 in 2010.
CADDy’s perks have changed over its six years. Last year, for instance, the CADDy program charged a total of $5 for one to two passengers and $10 for three or more passengers. At the time, the service worked for roundtrips and didn’t restrict where passengers could go.
“We had a lot of people abusing it, like going to Walmart to do groceries,” Sanchez says.
Who can blame them?
On the ride home, the cabbie tells me that passengers sometimes get confused about tipping him: Some will leave him 15 percent of the meter cost, while others will tip 15 percent on the dollar—ie, 15 cents.
Before I reach in my pocket for a $3 tip, the cabbie hands me a questionnaire. CADDy requires each passenger to fill one out at the end of the ride. I write down my name, how many people I’m traveling with (none), whether I’d use the service again (yes) and what can be done to improve it.
I leave the last question blank, but wonder about the things other people write there.
“It depends how drunk they are,” Sanchez says. “[Some] we get say, ‘You should serve chicken wings.’”
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article misstated the cost of the author's ride home on the meter. It was $8.97, not 'more than $18.' SFR regrets the error.