Free rides: Portsmouth, NH, versus Fort Bend County, TX

This recent post on was a bit difficult for me to read and comprehend. I would really like to think that our law enforcement officials are in the business of keeping people safe, and reducing crimes such as driving while intoxicated (DWI), driving under the influence (DUI), drink-driving, or any of the other myriad names it goes by. People who try to drive home after consuming alcohol pose a danger to themselves and the other drivers on the road.

Unfortunately, the flip side of this is that fewer drivers drinking and driving means fewer arrests to make. Free Uber (no direct relation to the private driver service of the same name, other than the fact some of the drivers are part of both) was offering free rides on New Year’s Eve in the Portsmouth, New Hamphire, area, and in fact still is if the website is up to date. From the website:

Starting New Years Eve, we’re going to offer “limousine” rides by donation. Not stretch limos or anything… it just so happens that Portsmouth doesn’t regulate “specialty vehicles” like limos. Teehee. These “specialty vehicles” will have some fun games inside, so definitely not your typical car service! Definitely special! (Leave us alone please!)

(There are plenty of other gems on the website, like how every attempt to get the transportation law amended so that Uber can operate in Portsmouth without its drivers

However, this apparently wasn’t enough to keep the Portsmouth government happy. It’s weird the way the laws are written: giving someone a ride for free isn’t regulated, but according to the city, giving them a ride and accepting a tip–even if tipping is completely voluntary–is regulated and prohibited by the city. From the post:

The Portsmouth gang is threatening the charity drivers with fines of $500 to $1,000 if they are caught accepting money for rides. How police will catch them is another question entirely. With UBER, police could use the UBER app to monitor the locations of the UBER cars (whether they have, I don’t know). However, UBER is not involved at all with the New Year’s Eve charity, so police would have to run a sting operation by scheduling a ride, then pouncing on the driver when he or she accepts a tip from the undercover cop.

If this sounds absurd, like the cops in Portsmouth really have nothing better to do if they have to resort to this kind of blatant government-sponsored thuggery, that’s because it is. There’s no way the cops would have time for this nonsense in just about any other town, even a town of a comparable area and population to Portsmouth (16.8 square miles and 21,233 as of the 2010 census, respectively). There’s no word on whether or not Portsmouth police actually ran a sting operation. I would like to think even if they considered doing so, they eventually thought better of it and decided not to.

Consider instead what Fort Bend County Constables did. This story from ABC 13 (KTRK-TV) is about a free ride program offered by the deputies, which 15 intoxicated and potentially dangerous drivers took advantage of. Three deputies from the civil division actually handled the rides themselves, meaning that the patrol division was not short any deputies.

So that’s fifteen fewer DWI arrests, safer roads, good PR for the agency, and positive rapport between the agency and the community. Everyone’s a winner. Contrast this with Portsmouth, where almost everyone loses in the pissing contest with Free Uber.