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Tipsy bar patrons during this St. Patrick’s Day weekend will have an option of a free cab ride home from participating establishments, thanks to an initiative announced Monday by the Erie County Sheriff’s Office, Liberty Cab and many clubs in the downtown entertainment district.

The initiative runs from 9 p.m. Friday through noon Monday. During that time, if patrons believe they are too intoxicated to drive, they are encouraged to ask the bartender for a yellow voucher. That is the ticket for a free cab ride home within a 25-mile radius – an estimated $75 value – according to William G. Yuhnke, president of Liberty Cab.

“If you’re in Erie County, we’re going to get you home,” Yuhnke said. “Last year, we were actually more busy on St. Patrick’s Day than on New Year’s Eve.”

Patrons may either call for a cab at 877-7111 or use Taxi Magic, a smartphone app that offers on-demand cab service without talking to an operator.

“With drunken drivers, you have to get there fast so they do not get into the vehicle,” Yuhnke said. “If you don’t, they may have second thoughts and wind up behind the wheel.”

This is not the first time Liberty Cab has offered free rides for drivers who have had too much to drink. In “Safe Ride Home,” the cab company teamed up with the Buffalo Bills last season to transport inebriated football fans home from games at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park. Up to 15 cabs are routinely stationed at the north end of the stadium, according to Sheriff Timothy B. Howard, who approached Liberty Cab weeks ago to pitch the St. Patrick’s Day weekend campaign against drunken driving.

The holiday weekend includes two parades:

• “The Old Neighborhood” St. Patrick’s Day Parade retraces the original 1913 parade route through the historic streets of the Valley and Old First Ward neighborhoods. Starting at noon Saturday, it runs along South Park Avenue; Smith, Elk and Hamburg streets; and O’Connell Avenue.

• The Delaware Avenue St. Patrick’s Day Parade kicks off at 2 p.m. Sunday from Niagara Square, ending at North Street. Last year, it attracted 125,000 people, according to Howard.

Sgt. Daniel S. Dytchkowskyj, who commands the sheriff’s Traffic Bureau, believes that the initiatives to deter drunken driving have been working.

“It seems we’re seeing less arrests on the big drinking holidays,” he said.

“Last year, deputies logged one arrest during St. Patrick’s Day weekend – from 9 p.m. March 16 to noon March 19. I think people are realizing that police are intensifying their patrols during that time.

“It’s important for us to continue the patrols. We can’t let up.”

Howard said that “it costs between $8,000 to $10,000 for a DWI,” referring to legal fees and fines. “That is a steep price to pay, but there is an even steeper price to pay should you maim or hurt someone while driving drunk.”

To date, the following downtown bars are participating in the weekend campaign: Laughlin’s, Sky Bar, D’Arcy McGee’s Irish Pub, City Tavern, Bada Bing Bar & Grill, Buckin’ Buffalo Saloon, Indulge Bar & Night Club, Noir Ultra Lounge, 67 West, Bottoms Up and Soho Burger Bar.

email: jkwiatkowski@buffnews.com