Jul 30, 2014
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Safe Travels

Designated Driving Services is your community guardian when it comes to getting home safe from the bar, restaurant, Phillies game, wedding reception, you name it

Safe Travels

It’s 1 a.m. in Doylestown. You’re three shots of Jameson deep. Your best friend insists on “just one more beer.”

You do it – knowing full well no one is driving your sorry butt home.

Your girlfriend/boyfriend’s at home, asleep.

Your only possible reliability is in front of you, head tilted back, grooving on “that hot Katy Perry song” on the jukebox.

It’s all good – you called DDS ahead of time: Designated Driving Services.

The Horsham-centered nonprofit is there for you, volunteer behind the wheel, driving an intoxicated you to your bed, safe and sound.

Gordon Johnson started the nonprofit in 1999, after he found himself at Bucks County Correctional Facility one evening.

“I heard some stories about DUI and accidents and all that. People were complaining that the reason they were driving intoxicated is because there was no transportation, no choice for them after midnight. I thought I could start something,” he said.

So, Johnson did just that. He started out on his own, using his own vehicle to pick people up from bars who needed a ride home.

Now, 13 years later, the nonprofit has seven volunteer drivers, three vans and a 40-passenger bus to transport people.

The service isn’t just for bars or clubs.

“If kids feel they are in an unsafe situation or are stranded because they don’t want to drive with someone, they can call us,” Johnson said. “The majority of people we take home are not intoxicated. They just want to be responsible.”

After 13 years, Designated Driving Services has expanded its service to cater to people needing transportation to and from restaurants, sports games, bachelor parties, wedding receptions – basically anywhere that will help people and families get home safely, who may otherwise succumb to potentially unsafe or hazardous circumstances.

Drivers use GPS and MapQuest to get riders to their location.

Say you have a group event – you can schedule a ride with Designated Driving Services. A bus can accommodate people going to a wedding reception, bachelor or bachelorette party, holiday party, concert, sports game, beer festival, and so on.

Cost: $100 deposit for the bus and $20 round trip per person, minimum of 25.

Need regular transportation? Request it in advance and you’ll have a ride available between 7 p.m. and 2 a.m., Sunday through Saturday.

There’s a $20 donation for the first five miles, per passenger, one way.

Designated Driving Services will also take you to the airport or 30th Street Station, at a donation of $40 one way per passenger, $60 for two passengers and $10 for each additional passenger.

“People volunteer to use their vehicles,” said Johnson. “The donations are what they get. My main concern is taking care of the drivers and the vehicles.”

Johnson also started out serving just the Warminster-Horsham-Hatboro area. Now, he serves Abington, Ambler, Conshohocken, Glenside, Hatfield, Lansdale, Jenkintown and Roslyn in Montgomery County; Bensalem, Doylestown, New Hope, Newtown, Southampton, Warminster, Warrington and Warwick in Bucks County; and Center City, Northern Liberties, Northeast, Manayunk, Old City, Penn’s Landing, Society Hill and South Street in Philadelphia.

“Customers love it,” he said. “I have people that I pick up, and they heard about us from word of mouth. ‘I’ve been living in Bucks County for 15 years, and I never knew.’ And they live three blocks away.”

Johnson can’t credit his determination and intuition in starting Designated Driving Services – he had some help from State Representatives Tom Murt and Rick Taylor, and state Sen. Stewart Greenleaf.

He said a state grant made it possible for him to purchase two vehicles to use for his service, as well as cover gasoline and maintenance.

Bazaar Beer, located on Easton Road in Horsham, has provided Johnson with a location for him to store his vehicles at no charge.

Furthermore, an officer in the U.S. Air Force donated the bus to Johnson.

It’s this hospitality and word of mouth that has helped Johnson stay in business.

“I try to do the best I can with advertising,” he said. “I know how expensive that can be.”

Johnson, a worker for the U.S. Navy at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey, also puts the word out to bars in the nonprofit’s coverage areas.

Some support Designated Driving Services, and others don’t support the nonprofit.

“Certain bars won’t back us,” he said. “A lot don’t know about us, and a lot won’t allow us to put our phone numbers up (in their establishment).”

The impediment may be Pennsylvania’s Dram Shop Law.

In the state, a business or individual who gives alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person is also legally responsible for any damage that person might cause.

“Bars feel they are going to be held liable if they encourage patrons to drink,” said Johnson. “They feel they are endorsing overdrinking by posting our signs, at least that’s the feedback we got from the Pennsylvania Tavern Association.”

“It’s untrue, because the liability is on Designated Driving Services once our customer leaves the establishment,” he said.

Johnson said some bars feel handcuffed by the law.

“The places that do support us are supporters from the beginning,” Johnson said. “No question. They sign up 10, 15 minutes into the conversation. Others don’t want to talk about it.”

Some of the supporters of DDS include: 86 West Restaurant and Bar, Amber Inn, Chambers 19 Bistro and The Other Side, and Poco’s, all in Doylestown; Plumsteadville Restaurant in Plumstead Township; Maple Glen Tavern in Upper Dublin; Jerzee’s Sports Bar & Grill in Glenside; Horsham Inn Tavern and Horsham VFW; General Davis House in Southampton; Connolly Pub & Grill, Stroker Roadhouse, Towey’s Tavern and Richie’s Bar and Grill Tavern in Hatboro; and Broad Axe Tavern and Whitpain Tavern in Whitpain; Willow Grove VFW; and Walsh’s Tavern in Warminster.

“The end user is who we want to protect,” he said. “We can’t get to them if establishments won’t help.”

Gordon and his organization don’t stop at serendipitous shuttle service – they sponsor the social networking site NiteLife-N-PA.

They want other businesses to advertise the safe express of DDS.

Through NiteLife-N-PA, the end user gets up-to-date information on events going on at bars, restaurants, clubs and local businesses in the Tri-State area.

Local businesses are given incentives to advertise, such as a month free, and that business agrees to give other advertisers and visitors to the site discounts and coupons on their services.

A place like General Davis Inn didn’t have a website before. Now, on NiteLife-N-PA, it has information on its history, its events, its full menu and a photo gallery.

Johnson said if an advertiser doesn’t have a site, NiteLife-N-PA developers will make one for the establishment.

“The whole idea is to make advertising affordable for bars because we know what it costs to get an immediate print ad, let alone your own social network site,” said Johnson. “The goal is to make it affordable for them to do, then more people are drawn to the site. Hopefully, by linking with Designated Driving Services, more people will not drive home unsafe. We want bars to see it’s going to be fun; we want them to tell customers it’s OK to come out.”

Futhermore, businesses that advertise through NiteLife-N-PA get 25 or more complimentary travel cards as part of the package.

Those cards can be given out to patrons and each one allows four passengers to ride for free on Designated Driving Services transportation.

“The bar is getting back what it put in the advertisement,” he said.

Johnson said it almost guarantees that establishment four returning customers.

“Patrons can hold onto the card as long as they want,” Johnson said. “It’s a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card.”

The complimentary card given to the patron can only be used for pick-up at that establishment.

Transportation cards can also be purchased through DDS for a $20 donation. The cards can only be used Thursday to Saturday, 7 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. in a five-mile radius.

Johnson and his drivers want people to think smart and think safe – for themselves and those around them.

“The idea is to get on the bus, have a good time, not have to give the driver directions,” he said, “and get you back home safe – and everybody else on the road that night.”

Visit Designated Driving Services at www.designateddriverservices.org

Contact them by phone at (215) 444-0530 or email gpj@designateddriverservices.org.

You can submit a comment or question at this link.

You can fill out a bus transportation request at this link.

Designated Driving Services also has a Facebook group page.

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