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Free Shuttle Service Keeping Bar Customers Safe in Shellsburg

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SHELLSBURG, Iowa - With St. Patrick's Day falling on a weekend, a lot of people will go out to a party. And one danger that could spoil the fun is having too much of a good time and driving when you shouldn't.

Some bars sponsor free cab rides home on holidays like this to prevent just such a problem. And there's always the "designated driver." But one bar owner in the Benton County community of Shellsburg came up with his own responsible drinking and safety campaign. His message is if you come to my place, I'll pick you up and drive you home for free.

The Pearl Street Social Club in downtown Shellsburg looks like a lot of small town Iowa bars on the inside. But outside, there's one big difference.

Owner Shadoe Vogt purchased a 12 passenger van a year ago that he parks out front. Instead of waiting for customers to come to him, if they call ahead he'll pick them up for free. Vogt said it's both a service and a safety feature—encouraging people to socialize without fear they'll get picked up for drunk driving on the way home.

"Usually when people start having fun, they want to keep having fun—they don't want the party to stop," Vogt said.

Vogt said he has regulars who call for a ride on many weekends. And he'll average 15 to 20 free passengers a night when the van is running—on weekends or when the bar has special entertainment. Understandably, he actually takes more people home that he picks up as some realize later in the evening they need a little transportation help.

It costs money to operate a bar shuttle service. One busy summer Saturday last year, he put 200 miles on the van. But Paige Ford, one rider on Saturday, said there is certainly a benefit to the bar. She and her friends tend to stay longer and spend more when they get a ride.

"Oh yes, we close the place down. We're usually the last ones here and we'd probably stay all night if we could," Ford said.

Owner Vogt admits a "designed driver" or free cab rides is one idea that's been around for years. But the bar shuttle works better in Shellsburg, and probably many rural communities, because there aren't any cabs nearby. He also believes designed drivers would rather have a good time too.

Another rider, Steve Lessig, agreed.

"Knowing (Vogt) and knowing we could trust him to take care of us—it's a good deal," Lessig said.

Vogt said because he offers free rides, he doesn't have added liability insurance expenses or need to follow commercial transportation rules. And he has a "one-town-away" rule, meaning he'll only go as far as neighboring towns to pick up customers. So he tries to keep expenses down.

Whatever the cost, he figures it's doing his business some good and keeping his customers safe and that's a win for everybody.

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