In late April, United Cab Company stopped providing free rides for those too drunk to drive home from the popular USF-adjacent bar, University Area Hangout (UA). United owner Nancy Castellano said people were abusing the service, called Alert Cab, by going out with the intention of using it to avoid paying normal fares.
Certainly, it is the responsibility of every individual to drink responsibly, which includes planning ahead for transportation.
It is also completely acceptable for any wise company owner to safeguard profits by curtailing consumer abuse of products or services.
However, Alert Cab is a service United chose to offer and then refused to patrons without warning.
Paul Riebenack, owner of UA, said United was called several times for Alert Cab with no response, until one night a bartender was told flat-out that nobody would come to the bar.
“They refused to perform a service they were being paid for,” said Skye Anderson, bartender and co-general manager of UA. “All of a sudden they just said, ‘no more.'”
While it may be aggravating to continually provide free cab rides for inebriated college students, it is a service United volunteered to provide to keep drunk drivers off roadways, . It is irresponsible to claim to offer a service and then be unreliable.
If the purpose of the free cab rides is to prevent drunk driving by granting drunk patrons safe transportation, then places with frequent Alert Cab customers like UA are exactly where the service should be vested.
Bill Gieseking, director of marketing for Pepin Distributing Company – which has overseen the Alert Cab program for United and other companies since its inception in Hillsborough County 15 years ago – said he believes United “jumped the gun” on refusing service.
In fact, he said he was unable to determine abuse of Alert Cab by UA.
Denying service because of heavy usage runs counter to Alert Cab’s mission and calls into question the integrity of United’s management – who would apparently rather risk patrons driving off drunk out of last resort than do the job they promised to do.
Although United has said Alert Cab will resume at UA, its reputation has been significantly tarnished for both patrons and staff members who were repeatedly ignored and refused service.
Whether the owners of the company like it or not, Alert Cab is a service on which many people now rely. After all, is it really that much of a surprise that students drinking nickel beers at UA would use a free cab ride service?