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'Home Free' ride program could be in trouble says Tri-County Beverage Association president

Posted at 5:16 PM, Jul 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-11 15:08:18-04

HELENA — Earlier versions of this story misquoted Bruce McCullough as saying "black guy" instead of "black eye". The story has been updated to reflect the actual quote. We apologize for the error.

In 27 establishments dotted across the Tri-County Licensed Beverage Association, there are signs for the "Home Free" ride program, a program where patrons of those establishments can get a ride home, free of charge, simply by asking the bartender.

Bruce McCullough, president of the Tri-County Licensed Beverage Association and owner of Miller's Crossing, a bar near the downtown Helena area, said in almost three years the program has kept nearly 3,000 impaired drivers off the road.

“The bars have always gotten a black eye when it comes to DUI's and deaths -- alcohol-related deaths -- so we decided that maybe it was time that the taverns, or tavern associations, started to do their part,” said McCullough inside his bar. "Uber actually had to come up with a program for us to work, and then we did a trial. A couple of months trial with a few taverns in town was successful. So, we started a campaign to get out the other taverns within our association signed up and participating. To date, we're pushing 3000 rides that we have done since the inception."

However, with establishments seeing lower revenue as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, McCullough says the program could face financial woes.

“If things continue to the way they're going, we probably would have to look at maybe either totally revamping the program," said McCullough. "Maybe charging the bars more, which I have a problem with doing. At 25 bucks a month, they don't have a problem with it, you start charging 50 to 100 dollars a month, and they're gonna go, 'I don't know if I want to do it anymore.'”

Though there is that fear, Ron Bolan, owner of Sleeping Giant Lanes and an establishment inside the 'Home Free' program, said the resource the program provides is far too valuable, and even if the association needed to raise the cost for it to continue, it would still be worth it.

“Would you be willing to pay more for this service?” asked MTN.

“I would. Yeah. I think with the consequences for not doing what we're doing, is far greater than what we're paying to get people home safely,” said Bolan, in the bar of the bowling alley. "I do think that all Tavern owners, all bar owners, would probably share the same opinion that this is a very important program, and for what we pay, to be a participant, in that program isn't a lot of money in the whole scheme of things."

"It's our responsibility to make sure that if customers are drinking in our establishment, that we do make sure that they can get home safely."