- Associated Press - Monday, September 1, 2014

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) - Paddy O’Neill’s Irish Pub was starting to empty out late one rainy night as Dion Deutscher and his two friends were wondering how they were going to make it home.

A taxi would cost way too much and none of them wanted to drive, let alone walk, through the rain. They could probably call and wake up a friend - an inconvenience at 1 a.m. - and they all would have to leave their cars downtown, risking a ticket the next morning.

Then John Mitchell handed Deutscher a little pink business card for The Designators, a designated-driving service that will take revelers home in their own vehicles.

“It was perfect,” Deutscher, 23, of Rapid City, said. “He came up to us and handed us business cards right as we were talking about how we were getting home.”

Every night Mitchell and his team of four drivers hit the bars of Rapid City, handing out hundreds of business cards to prospective clients, the Rapid City Journal (http://bit.ly/1p7rTik ) reported.

“We take you, in your own vehicle, home,” Mitchell tells people.

They’ve handed out nearly 2,000 since he started the business July 31.

Some of The Designators’ pub scouting pays off, with Mitchell getting as many as eight calls in one night. Other nights, however, Mitchell doesn’t get a single customer, he said.

Mitchell, 26, parks his vehicle downtown around 11 p.m. every night. He then makes the rounds, hitting Murphy’s Pub and Grill, Dublin Square, Paddy O’Neills, The Brass Rail and the Oasis Lounge.

Almost all of the bars have been very accommodating, Mitchell said, letting him come in and hand out cards. He even leaves a stack of cards with bartenders as he shuffles through every bar and talks with customers.

Mitchell charges flat rates to take people and their vehicles home. Costs vary: anywhere in Rapid City, $15; Box Elder, $18; and Sturgis, $30.

“I don’t like people driving home drunk,” Mitchell said. “But we’re here to give them the option, not force them.”

The Designators planned to be out in full force as the Rapid City Police Department ramped up its DUI enforcement for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign from Aug. 13 through Sept. 1.

Mitchell said business has been much better than he ever imagined.

He sees The Designators as a chance to improve the world by doing something he enjoys, while being a part of something he can’t do.

When Mitchell was 8, he was hit by a car and lost a kidney. With only one kidney, Mitchell can’t drink a lot, and he grew up volunteering to be the designated driver for his friends.

It occurred to him he could turn that task into a profit.

He relishes the camaraderie generated by driving people around and the satisfaction of getting them home safely, he said.

“Really - I just like conversing with people, which makes them feel a lot better about me driving their vehicle,” Mitchell said.

“This is something I’m hoping to do full-time eventually,” said Mitchell, who works at Dollar General during the day.

After three weeks of using his own vehicle, Mitchell bought a 2005 Honda Accord to use as a trail car for the business.

During a particularly slow night a couple of weeks ago, Mitchell drove a white 1995 Chevy Corsica, a trail car, with his cousin Cody Kidd, 19, from Belle Fourche, who would act as his trail-car driver.

For each ride, Mitchell pays a trail-car driver $3 and a portion of the tip.

He got only four calls that whole night, turning down two of them because they were for a taxi service.

“We don’t like to tell people that we’re a taxi service, because we’re not,” Mitchell said.

Because The Designators do not use their cars to transport customers, the business is not a taxi under Rapid City’s taxi cab ordinance, said Wade Nyberg, an assistant city attorney.

He also said the business is a fairly safe venture insurance-wise for drivers who give over their keys.

Automobile insurance policies allow someone, besides those covered on the policy, to operate a vehicle, Nyberg said.

Ashley Reub, 24, from Denver, makes regular trips to Rapid City for her job as a graphic designer. She likes having The Designators’ option when she goes out drinking, she said.

Reub doesn’t know many people in Rapid City, so calling a friend is mostly out of the question, she said, and a taxi can be comparatively costly.

“It seems pretty cheap,” Reub said. “I’m used to paying like $50 for a ride home in a taxi.”

Deutscher added another disadvantage to taxi rides: Drivers run the risk of paying for a parking ticket on a car left overnight.

“You go home, and you have no car,” Deutscher said. “You set your alarm to get it the next morning and don’t wake up. Then you wake up with $20 in parking tickets.”

As Deutscher drained the last of his draft beer at Paddy O’Neills, he slid off the bar stool.

Walking outside, he spotted Mitchell about a block north.

“My car’s this way,” he said to Mitchell waving at him, and then handing over his keys.

Climbing into the passenger seat of his 1998 Chrysler Sebring LXI in front of Tally’s Silver Spoon, he asked Mitchell, “Do you know where Sally O’Malley’s is? Yeah, head out that way.”

Sliding into the driver’s seat, Mitchell adjusted the seats and the mirrors and pulled onto St. Joseph Street headed for Rapid Valley.

About 15 minutes and a half-dozen turns later, Deutscher said, “Oh, crap, we missed my house.”

Flipping a U-turn, Mitchell headed back down the road, this time pulling into Deutscher’s driveway.

“Dude, you could really do some work with this business,” Deutscher said as Mitchell’s tail car pulled up. “I’ll be sure to call you again.”

On the way back to Rapid City, Mitchell’s phone rang. Another call, for another ride. It was almost 2 a.m., and Chris Montgomery, 35, needed to get himself and his 2008 Chevy Suburban back to West Rapid.

“No problem man,” Mitchell said. “We have you covered.”

___

Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com

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