For bar or restaurant patrons who have had too much to drink, a Huntington Beach company is offering a ride home — in a very familiar car.
DrunkRescue, which launched in January, provides a service in which professional drivers take intoxicated customers' keys and chauffeur them back to their residences.
The owners, Davlyn Sousa De Freitas and Robert Herron, started their enterprise in response to Huntington Beach's high DUI numbers, although their service has quickly expanded to Costa Mesa, Newport Beach, Fountain Valley, Laguna Beach and other surrounding cities.
"People are hearing about us with very little advertising, just social networking websites and word of mouth," said Sousa De Freitas, who worked as an investment banker for Wells Fargo before starting his new endeavor.
DrunkRescue employs 15 drivers who situate themselves around popular after-dark areas between midnight and 3 a.m. Thursday through Saturday. If a customer calls the business' main number needing a ride, the operator relays the message to the driver closest to the customer's location.
The driver then meets the customer — walking over on foot if he's close enough, or getting a ride from Sousa De Freitas or Herron if not — and takes the keys to his or her car. After the driver has taken the customer home, Sousa De Freitas or Herron picks up the driver and brings him back to his post.
The owners hired some of their drivers through Craigslist and have a posting on their website, http://www.drunkrescue.com, to hire another. All applicants must have a driving record clean of DUIs and pass a criminal background check and behind-the-wheel test.
In addition to fighting DUIs, Sousa De Freitas and Herron aimed to create a business that was cheaper than a taxi and didn't leave the customer requiring another ride to retrieve his or her car in the morning.
"We used to take a lot of cabs, and the prices started hurting after a while," Sousa De Freitas said. "We figured there must be an easier way."
DrunkRescue charges a flat rate of $3 per mile and makes no adjustments for how long the ride takes. By contrast, the Orange County Taxi Administration Program's official passenger fares are $2.95 for the first quarter-mile and 65 cents for each additional quarter-mile, but fees increase during times when the cabs are stopped or moving slowly.
The taxi authority has no minimum charge beyond the $2.95 for the first quarter-mile, however, whereas DrunkRescue charges a minimum $10. Joel Zlotnik, the spokesman for the county program, said the company's official slogan of "Always Cheaper than a Cab" doesn't necessarily apply to short distances.
"You can definitely have a ride that's cheaper than $10," he said.
Sousa De Freitas acknowledged that a taxi would be less expensive for a short ride, but said many of his customers traveled longer than a few miles. DrunkRescue drivers, he said, have escorted people as far as Corona.
Lt. Mitch O'Brien, the Police Department's public information officer, said in an email that he hadn't observed DrunkRescue at work, but admired the company's intent.
"Anyone driving an intoxicated person home is a good thing," he said.