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Morris, who was lying in the street in front of the San Miguel County Courthouse Home Safe pickup point, was struck by a 10-passenger van operated by Telluride Express, the transit company contracted by Home Safe to ferry passengers from downtown Telluride to Mountain Village, and points in between. Witnesses say Morris laid down in front of the overcrowded van after being told to disembark, per Public Utility Commission rules, by its driver.
“I am upset,” Telluride Mayor Stu Fraser said the day after the accident.
Fraser was one of the originators of the Home Safe program, founded by a Citizens Advisory Board organized by the Telluride Marshal’s Department in 2003.
“It has been a tremendous service to the public,” Fraser said of Home Safe, “but I understand Telluride Express’s reasons for wanting to stop it.”
San Miguel County Commissioner Art Goodtimes pronounced Morris’s death “a tragedy.”
Goodtimes added that he and fellow Commissioner Joan May have been questioning the appropriateness of government contributions to the free after-hours public-transportation program, which last year totaled $7,500 from the Town of Telluride, $11,500 from the Town of Mountain Village, and $4,500 from the county, for awhile.
“We weren’t going to put it on the budget” for 2012, he said, “but Stu pleaded for it.
“It doesn’t seem like a government function to me,” Goodtimes said of Home Safe, “especially in these tough times.”
Home Safe, which ferried approximately 2,000 passengers in its first two years of operation, began with contributions from operators of Telluride bars and restaurants – and from Heineken.
Initially operating on Friday and Saturday nights during ski season, Home Safe's ridership soon grew to seven nights a week; in the 2006-07 ski season, Home Safe clocked 2,400 riders.
In recent years, Home Safe settled into the current schedule of two pickups, at 12:45 and 2:15 a.m., Saturday-Monday mornings (after the Friday-Sunday bar rush), from mid-December through the end of ski season, and from Memorial Day Weekend through mid-September, with vans returning as needed, between the two scheduled pickups.
As ridership went up, however, private sector funding dwindled – and government contributions increased, with Mountain Village, accounting for 70-80 percent of the Home Safe ridership, making the heftiest payment.
Crowd ‘Didn’t Tell the Driver’ Morris Was Under the Van
“One of the reasons Home Safe ended,” Goodtimes said Monday, was because people in the crowd awaiting pickup Sunday morning “didn’t tell the driver” that Morris had “crawled under the van,” perhaps part of a behavior pattern leading drivers to complain, well before the fatal accident, about unpleasant working conditions that included passenger harassment and “people throwing up on them.”
But despite the fact that situations occurred in which “people have gotten rowdy,” Fraser said, the program was “so successful at moving people, we just continued to go back to it each year.”
Regarding “disputes, with the budget crunch,” over financing a program aimed at keeping inebriated drivers off the road that, until last weekend, operated “without any incident,” Fraser said, those disputes centered mostly on “a disagreement” regarding “the principles and the purpose” of Home Safe.
Because governments pay to address much of the tragic consequences of drinking and driving, he suggested, and because “common sense dictates that [Home Safe] made for a much safer road,” it’s arguable that government actions aimed at preventing drunk driving are better made before than after the fact of an accident.
It’s hard to quantify just how many lives – not to mention how many dollars – have been saved by programs like Home Safe. But traffic fatalities in accidents involving drunk drivers have dropped by roughly 50 percent nationwide since 1982, thanks in large part to public awareness campaigns in the U.S. initially mounted by groups including Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Students Against Destructive Decisions that have led, in turn, to privately as well as community-sponsored programs featuring designated drivers.
“What we are providing is a designated driver,” Fraser was quoted as saying in 2007, four years into the Home Safe program.
“I understand Telluride Express’s position for wanting to stop” using its vans in the Home Safe program, Fraser said this week, adding that no vans collected Home Safe passengers the night after the accident.