Ride-hailing drivers and police officers work together to keep community safe

Ride-hailing drivers and police officers work together to keep community safe

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - Apps like Uber and Lyft are often seen as a side hustle, but for one Huntsville women, those apps are a livelihood.

Leigh Ann Browne is a full-time Uber and Lyft driver, she’s been driving for the ride-hailing services since August 2018.

“Oh my goodness, it has been awesome, I have loved it," Browne said. “It’s made my life so much happier.”

Browne compared it to running her own business.

“I have to be self motivated to make sure I do get up and turn the apps on, because you don’t work if you don’t turn the apps on," she said.

She said one of the biggest benefits is being her own boss.

“I don’t have to hear or listen to anybody else except what my budget needs,” Browne said.

The hours are a little different than your typical “9-5” though, Brown says she starts early in the morning and works until about lunch. Browne also works on weekend nights ferrying people back and forth from downtown bars to where they live.

Browne decided to become a ride-hailing driver late last Summer.

“I wanted to be happy and meet people and go places," Browne said. "And this does that, you don’t see the same person, the same sunlight, the same night sky, moon all of that. It’s different every single day.”

On top of that, Browne said she has a brother who is a former alcoholic. She said this makes her want to help people who have been drinking get home safe.

“I think that’s why I’m out here, I want to be of service to the community," she said. "That’s what drove me to do this job.”

Browne said she gets a lot of business from people choosing to order an Uber and Lyft, rather than drive drunk and risk hurting themselves or others.

Sgt. Michael Nelson, the supervisor of the Huntsville Police Department DUI Task Force, knows what Browne is talking about.

“Uber, Lyft guys are a great asset to have because it does keep impaired drivers off the road, which is our ultimate goal," Nelson said.

As far as the actual numbers go for DUI arrests in Huntsville, there has been a significant decrease in the years since Uber was first allowed to begin operating in Huntsville.

According to Lt. Michael Johnson with the Huntsville Police Department, the approximate Huntsville DUI arrest numbers by year are: 917 arrests in 2015, 694 arrests in 2016, 572 arrests in 2017 and 632 arrests in 2018.

The last full year without ride-hailing services in Huntsville there were more than 900 DUI arrests. In 2016, the first year Uber was allowed to operate in Huntsville, those arrest numbers dropped by more than 200.

Sgt. Nelson said there are other factors that affect those numbers, though.

He said over the last few years, off and on, the DUI Task Force has been used to answer patrol calls to make up for a shortage in manpower or special circumstances.

“The past year the city has undergone a lot of changes, one of those changes has obviously been Cecil Ashburn getting closed." Nelson said. "For the first part of the year, DUI Task Force was reassigned from night shift to day shift in order to accommodate the traffic enforcement issues we were having.”

Situations like these have taken the focus of the task force away from just DUI patrols over the past few years, according to Nelson.

“That combined with the fact that I am two officers short in DUI Task Force right now," Nelson said. "The officers are just not able to go out there and do as much enforcement as they would if I had a full staff.”

Despite these other factors, Nelson does acknowledge the effect of ride-hailing services.

“That combined with Uber and Lyft I think is the reason our numbers have dropped significantly since 2016," he said.

Browne said she agreed about the effect the services have on DUI numbers.

“I have had people at night who are policemen say, 'Thank you so much,’” Browne said. "I think it is important to them that we are out there to help them.”

Nelson said another DUI checkpoint is being planned for late October, this will be another opportunity for officers and drivers to work together to help the community stay safe.

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