By Cassandra Reinhart | LB Indy
Sam Saad has picked up over 9,000 people in his Honda Accord since he started driving with both Uber and Lyft three years ago. But he refuses to pick up in downtown Laguna Beach.
“I stopped picking up from there; it is not worth it,” said Saad, who sets out from his home in Huntington Beach. “If you pick up and drop off it has to be quick and from the street and it’s pretty unsafe.”
The city of Laguna Beach hopes to change that with the recent addition of designated ride share parking spaces in front of high-traffic establishments on South Coast Highway. On Jan. 18, the city added a ride sharing spot in front of the Sandpiper bar at 1183 S. Coast Highway. Early last year, they city also installed a passenger loading zone downtown on the 200 block of Laguna Avenue, near Skyloft.
“It allows people to get picked up and dropped off in an ebb and flow,” says Sandpiper bartender Samuel Bocock. “It allows for a more consistent flow of traffic.”
Welcoming ride sharing to Laguna Beach is just part of a multi-pronged approach by the city and police department to cut down on alcohol-related incidents. It seems to be working.
Last year, DUI arrests dropped 21 percent, to 307, compared to 389 DUI arrests in 2015, said police Sgt. Tim Kleiser.
“The use of more accessible services such as Uber, Lyft generally have encouraged people to use them instead of driving a vehicle while impaired,” Kleiser said.
Louie Palmerin, a manager at Skyloft since its opening in 2015, says he can detect a difference. “Having a police presence is definitely a deterrent and the readily available rides with Lyft and Uber,” Palmerin said. “Our establishment is trying to contribute to that by serving responsibly.”
Palmerin says Skyloft, and its partner restaurant Mozambique, go a step further and also offer patrons a free ride home from 5 p.m. to close within a three-mile radius.
“People are excited about it, it’s not something that people turn down,” Palmerin said. “A free ride is pretty awesome.”
Skyloft and Mozambique also encourage their managers and servers to take the T.I.P.S. course, a state-funded program that educates food service workers on the laws pertaining to the service of alcohol and consumption. As a reward for completing the course, Palmerin’s servers get to set their own schedule for a month.
“It’s been a big community effort with the police and restaurants. It has helped a lot,” Palmerin said.
At the Sandpiper, better known as the Dirty Bird, bartender Bocock says the designated ride sharing space on Coast Highway has made a big difference. Without the ride sharing spot, Bocock says it can create an unsafe traffic jam out front at closing time.
“It keeps people from parking and cabs from sitting there all night,” Bocock said. “And it keeps other Uber drivers and cabs from getting tickets because they have to continuously move about; they just can’t sit there all night.”
More and more Laguna Beach bars and business owners also collaborate together on an app called WhatsApp, a sort of cell-phone chat room where they let each other know if someone has been over served or is causing trouble, with police kept in the loop too. Kleiser says as a result of the multi-faceted approach, not only are DUI numbers down, but there were no fatal traffic collisions in 2016.
“We are attributing the decrease in the number of DUI arrests to not just one thing, but a culmination of our overall approach,” said Kleiser, including a proactive downtown foot patrol that enters bars and discourages patrons from getting behind the wheel.
“I’m all for anything that lowers DUI instances, that is the goal,” said Lumberyard restaurant owner Cary Redfearn, who wasn’t thrilled when officers came in during happy hour, inspecting bottles for tampering with flashlights. “I didn’t understand why they were doing it in business hours, but I think they dialed that back. There was then a good conversation between bar owners and police department and they have done a great job in making the adjustment,” said Redfearn. “We take our alcohol beverage license very seriously. It’s a responsibility we have to ensure the safety of our guests and the community.”
Kleiser says another DUI saturation patrol is planned Saturday, Feb. 25. Though the city doesn’t plan on any additional ride sharing spots right now, the creation of the two existing spots is a small step in the right direction for Uber driver Saad.
“Because everyone wants to be picked up from the front, from Coast Highway,” Saad said. “There is no way to stop because you stop the traffic.”