Whose business is bar transportation?

Justin R. Lessman

Justin R. Lessman

Each year, the city of Brookings invests countless hours and millions of dollars into its liquor business, through both the retail municipal liquor store and the various city-authorized liquor licenses granted to bars and pubs.

A lot of work and money foster an environment where Brookings residents and SDSU students can get drunk on a yearly basis. However, is that where the city’s responsibility stops?

“From what I’ve seen, the city does a great job of getting citizens and students drunk down at the bar or wherever,” said Matt Gunderson, owner of the “Gundy Bus,” a revitalized school bus that he operates on busy bar nights. “But for a ride home, the people are suddenly at the mercy of friends or just plain out of luck. It just seems like a real issue of safety, here.”

City officials regard the captive liquor business as a lucrative moneymaker.

Virgil Herriott, mayor of Brookings, said, “The liquor business in Brookings is exactly that-a business.”

Apparently, one that is taken very seriously.

Last year, the city council expected to invest nearly $4.6 million dollars in alcoholic beverages to stock the city’s liquor store: $2.85 million on beer, $1.6 million on hard liquor and another $130,000 on other alcoholic drinks.

The budget estimated that the liquor store would garner more than $5.4 million in revenue. After expenses and maintenance of the $100,000 Liquor Store Fund, $332,000 was to be transferred into the city’s general fund. That accounts for just less than one quarter of the total transfers.

The liquor business in Brookings does not rest solely on the store, however. In addition to retail profits, the city also skims a little from the override percentage charged to other alcoholic beverage sellers within city limits.

But exactly whose business is it to make sure residents and students get from the bar or their party hangout to home safely?

The city takes a relatively small role in this aspect, compared to its investment in liquor.

Brookings has one city-subsidized taxi service. Last year, the city council gave $42,730 for the taxi.

Manned by George Benson, the taxi service does operate during traditional bar hours. Monday through Wednesday, the taxi runs until 10 p.m., and Thursday through Saturday, the service operates until 2:30 a.m.

Benson said a taxi ride from the party to anywhere in city limits will run $4.75.

Not a bad price to pay to get home safely. Yet, some who are experienced in dealing with the taxi service say that with only one taxi and a bar full of those unfit to drive, it is sometimes difficult to track it down.

“I tell you, it is not always easy to get a hold of them,” said Kalli Perry, bartender at Skinner’s Pub. “I mean, it’s policy for us to call a cab for them (those unfit to drive) or let them use the phone here, but late at night, the taxi is hard to contact. It seems like they don’t answer half the time.”

Herriott said the taxi service exists in Brookings for two reasons: the transport of the elderly and disabled and the transport of other people, including the bar crowd or other party goers unfit to drive themselves. However, he has noticed that, at certain points in the night, one taxi service just is not enough.

“I personally think that a subsidized taxi service is a good idea,” he said. “I did hear of a second party that made an inquiry into operating another taxi service in the city. That would be a good idea, especially for bar patrons.”

Herriott said bar patrons are recognized as one constituency in the city and should therefore be represented accordingly.

Gunderson is another person who noticed the shortage of alternative transportation. Here’s where the Gundy Bus comes in. For $5, patrons can go anywhere within city limits.

“I usually run downtown on Thursday nights and any other traditional bar night like Hobo Days or other busy weekends,” he said.

Gunderson said he drives anywhere from 10 to 30 people home on an average Thursday night. On Hobo Days weekend last year, his bus took more than 200 people home safely.

“It’s something I do to make a little money, yes; but also to make sure people get home safely,” he said. “That is very important to me.”

It is also important to many of the city establishments that serve alcohol. A majority of bars offer incentives to a designated driver, or at least have a public phone.

Shirley Christopherson, a 30-year manager of the Chevy Lounge, said she gives free non-alcoholic drinks to designated drivers, in an attempt to encourage the practice.

“We give free pops, Cokes, orange juice to the designated drivers,” she said. “If someone has had enough, we cut them off. They’re not always too happy about it, but that’s the way it is.”

She said her employees know to help a bar patron get a ride home when needed.

“I always tell them, there’s no law against drinking, but there is one against drinking and driving,” she said. “It’s cheaper to call a ride than the alternative when you’re caught.”

Skinner’s Pub also gives fountain pop to a designated driver.

Amanda Hansen, a 2-year employee of the Safari Lounge, said she and her fellow workers strictly enforce cut-off limits.

“There’s a certification that everyone who serves alcohol must get in relation to recognizing cut-off limits,” she said. “It’s good training to get and is important when dealing with the safety of customers. That’s the main thing.”