Getting home after a night out on the town is now just a phone call away for soldiers at U.S. Army Garrison Hohenfels.

Thanks to a new taxi service provided by the Installation Operations Center that started last week, partygoers who are unable to drive and don’t have cab fare can get a lift back to base 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Although it’s a free ride for the night, soldiers must repay the taxi fund by their next payday.

“It gives soldiers the opportunity to make the right decision when they need help,” said Lt. Col Gary E. Bloomberg, garrison commander.

Established with contributions from the community, the service was inspired by a similar program Bloomberg saw at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla.

Along with a designated-driver campaign, “it’s another avenue for the soldiers to do the right thing,” Bloomberg said.

“We thought it would be a good idea to test out to see if we could reduce (drunken-driving arrests) in the Hohenfels community. If we can prevent one incident and get one soldier off the street, it’s worth it,” said Bloomberg, who donated money to help get the program off the ground.

During 2006-07, military police and German police arrested 26 people from Hohenfels for drunken driving. Ninety percent of them were U.S. soldiers, said Daniel Voglesong, garrison safety manager.

“We have had concerns with the number of DUI arrests in the area,” he said.

Making matters worse, Voglesong said, is the garrison’s relatively isolated location and limited public transportation.

But a new train schedule to and from Nuremberg — a popular nightlife destination about 40 minutes from Hohenfels — hopefully will encourage more people to leave their cars at home altogether, he said.

“We don’t have all the problems solved yet, but (the taxi service and the new train schedule) is a step in the right direction,” he said.

However, not everyone is convinced the taxi service is worthwhile.

“I understand we want our soldiers to get home safe. But we have to think, ‘Is this the right way to do it?’ This gives them a wild card to be irresponsible,” said Violetta Grant, a library program coordinator in Hohenfels.

“If you want to go out and party, make sure you have a designated driver,” Grant said. “I think the command sent the wrong message.”

Still, similar programs can be found in military communities throughout Europe.

Many Air Force bases offer the Airmen Against Drunk Driving program, which is staffed by airmen volunteers and offers free rides home to airmen on weekend nights. And there’s the “Get Home Safely Card” for the Special Troops Battalion with V Corps in Heidelberg, along with other programs that vary from garrison to garrison.

“It’s a way to promote not drinking and driving or it lets them know that if they run out of money we’re there for them as a command team,” said 1st Sgt. Renee Baldwin of V Corps.

Baldwin “totally disagrees” with the notion that emergency taxi services promote binge drinking and said the program in Heidelberg is not abused.

“We’ve never had a problem so far,” she said. “They have a safe ride home and all is well.”

Need a ride?

Soldiers from Hohenfels who need a ride home can call the Installation Operations Center 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 09472-832819. The fare must be paid back by the next payday.

Want to donate?

Garrison officials are still looking for donations to the emergency taxi fund. To donate, call DSN 466-2819 or 09472-832819.

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