From the moment the Tipsy? Taxi! service was announced, readers slammed its past performance.
This year, it didn't do much better.
Yellow Cab, which operates the service, missed about 18 percent of all calls received on New Year's Eve, the company tells Sun blog Getting There.
Dismayed by complaints from residents, the State Highway Administration is now planning on investigating the free cab rides.
In the end, the combination of unreliable phone lines and long waiting times proved to be discouraging to most Baltimore residents. (Ragina Averella, a spokeswoman for Tipsy? Taxi! sponsor AAA Mid-Atlantic, had already told Midnight Sun last week that the expected waiting time for the cabs would be 45 minutes.)
Only 92 rides were provided by the free cab service Friday, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic's preliminary count.
Averella promised to do a better job next time. "We will be looking at how we can possibly improve that service," she told Getting There.
In a separate e-mail to Midnight Sun, she defended this year's numbers, saying it was consistent with other years. In 2007, she wrote, when the service lasted from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., the service provided 114 rides. And in 2009, it provided nearly 100 rides.
Overall, she wrote, the sponsors were "pleased that patrons in Baltimore continue to take advantage of the Tipsy? Taxi Service."
But the SHA is not as pleased. In a statement to Getting There, it said it's planning on investigating problems with the service next month: "The three partners - SHA, AAA Mid-Atlantic and Yellow Cab are working together to determine what can be done differently in the future and will be meeting together in the next month."
The SHA and the service's program should start to wonder why a free cab ride isn't more popular with residents.
It's not just dropped calls and long waiting times, if they want to improve use, they should make other changes.
For starters, the service should be open to underage drinkers, who will drink despite the law, and need designated drivers as much, if not more, than adults who've already drinking for years.
Averella had also told Midnight Sun last week Yellow Cab would only have two phone operators dedicated to Tipsy? Taxi calls and that the cab provider would also be conducting regular business on New Year's Eve.
The sponsors should also recognize that a free cab ride on one of the year's drinking high holidays is going to be popular and is going to require more than just two operators.
These changes are important because, as Mike Dresser has already written, it makes no sense to tout a valuable service, even if its free, if it isn't going to be reliable.
Photo: Tipsy? Taxi! announcement press conference last week (Algerina Perna/Baltimore Sun)