WASHINGTON (Gloucester) — This St. Patrick's Day, township residents who celebrate a little too hard will be able to get a free ride home thanks to a partnership with a popular ride sharing app.

The program Washington Township Saves Lives builds on similar success seen in Eveshman and Voorhees, allowing residents who go to local bars and restaurants to get free rides within the township back tot heir homes. In Washington Township, the program will be available between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m. on Sunday, but will be available during similar hours every night.

"Our goal is to ensure the safety of every person who resides and visits our community," Mayor Joann Gattinelli said in a statement on Uber's website. "I truly believe with a program such as this, there is no excuse to get behind the wheel of a vehicle while under the influence."

So far there are 16 bars and restaurants in this township that have signed up to participate in the program.

Applebees Neighborhood Grill & Bar
Brunswick Zone
Divots Bar & Restaurant at Wedgewood Country Club
Greenwood Park Bells Lake Community Club
House of Brews
Knights of Columbus Home Assoc of Washington Twp.
Otts on The Green
Outback Steakhouse
PJ Whelihans Washington Brew Works
Ruby Tuesday
Terra Nova
TGI Friday’s Restaurant
The Village Pub
The Whitman Diner
Whitman Square Men’s Club

The free rides are provided thanks to a nonprofit organization that was started by the police department and the township. Chief Patrick Gurcsik said some of the money donated to the program have come from some of the businesses taking part in it. He said one of the donating business owners said he was spending $100 a month of their own money already to provide customers safe trips home.

"Even if one drunk driver is taken off the road and there is one less fatality, the program would be a success," Gurcsik said.

The chief said last year they had around 100 drunk driving arrests, with close to half involving a crash and half involving people coming from local bars and restaurants.

Evesham was the first municipality to pair with Uber around two years ago, according to Chief Chris Chew. He said the idea for the program started with discussions with Mayor Randy Brown about ways to reduce drunk-driving arrests and incidents in the town. Originally, they'd considered following the example of towns on the Jersey Shore and hiring a bus that would make the rounds around town. Eventually they reached out to Uber, who was onboard with the idea for the new program.

By starting a nonprofit that funds the program Chew said getting residents home safely "does not cost the township a dime." In two years he said the department has seen an 80 percent reduction in township residents being charged with DWI, and a 20 percent reduction overall. The chief said they believe more than 6,000 free rides have been provided in the two years alone.

The program was so successful that Evesham is now working with neighboring Voorhees on a reciprocal program where residents from each town can get a free ride home from the other town

"If one person takes advantage of it, we won," Chew said. "That's one less person that would have gotten behind the wheel and probably would have killed someone or themselves."

The chief called it a great example of a public/private cooperation. He said it also helps remove a potential stigma of getting a ride home from the bar with people no longer needing to call a cab. Chew said now, with a tap of an app on their phone, a person can get into a regular car and go home safely without anyone else knowing any better.

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Contact reporter Adam Hochron at 609-359-5326 or Adam.Hochron@townsquaremedia.com

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