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Talent Designated driving service gets clients home safely, if not sober

Barry Salter’s company, Zero Tolerance, in Kamloops offers drunk drivers a ride home in their own vehicles.

Zero Tolerance

If you're out on the town in Kamloops, Barry Salter wants you to get happy, and to get home happy, too.

"It's really a labour of love," says Mr. Salter, who has run his own business for four years while continuing to work full time for the city's parks department.

Mr. Salter's company, Zero Tolerance DD's Ltd., is a regional drive-home service for people who go out and have one – or more – too many. Customers call and he will send a driver to take them home in their own vehicles.

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The Zero Tolerance driver shows up with a companion, who follows in one of Mr. Salter's six company vehicles, to get the Zero Tolerance employees home. Mr. Salter started the service after figuring that many people in this B.C. city of more than 85,000 would prefer to start out in their own cars and trucks rather than take taxis.

"I was a social worker for 18 years," he says, remembering the many people he encountered who had trouble making it home.

"People found other forms of transportation were very impersonal, so I wanted to build a business based on a personal touch," he explains. "I did all the driving myself for the first two years."

Now he has four regular drivers and another four or five he can call to help in a pinch. Zero Tolerance charges $25 for the first four kilometres and an additional $5 for every four additional kilometres. "Once it reaches about $35 it becomes cheaper than taking a cab," he says.

When he researched and designed his business plan, Mr. Salter discovered that his designated driving service wasn't the first of its kind in Canada. "There were one or two in Ontario, one in Alberta, but none in B.C.," he says.

Mr. Salter spent about five months working on the plan, which he took to the federal Community Futures program, accessed through Western Economic Diversification Canada. "I had to make sure all my i's were dotted and my t's were crossed, and then they took it to a committee," he says.

He started out with a business partner but they didn't quite see eye to eye, so he arranged a second-stage loan through Community Futures to buy out the partner, "because this [the company] was my dream," he says. "I have just finished paying off the loan."

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One unanticipated expense was dealing with a lawyer's letter from a company with a similar name in Alberta, which led him to set up Zero Tolerance as a limited corporation. "That cost me about $1,500," Mr. Salter says.

There was also a learning curve to discover how to hire other drivers – what kinds of people to look for and how to set up their working arrangements.

"It was difficult at first because I hired a friend," he says. That friend worked with him for a year, but Mr. Salter realized additional workers would need more formal contracts.

"I didn't re-create the wheel. I found out how cab drivers are paid, what their contracts look like and I developed my own contracts. My drivers get paid a commission," he says.

"It's always a challenge finding the right people. Out of all the interviews we have done we have hired maybe 10 per cent. You've got to have the right personality, too."

Dealing with inebriated people is not nearly the challenge he thought it would be. Mr. Salter credits his background as a social worker for this, and that many people book Zero Tolerance before they go out, planning for weddings, date nights and special occasions.

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"I had expected that people would be very intoxicated, but three-quarters of our customers are just people being responsible, wanting to get their vehicles home," he says.

The local police didn't understand what Zero Tolerance was doing at first, but "now they're phenomenal," Mr. Salter says, even handing out his business cards to drivers they stop who are under the legal blood-alcohol limit but looking like they might be crossing the line soon and need a ride.

Between the police and his own marketing, "I have handed out 52,000 business cards," he says. His marketing is decidedly low-tech – customers can call his dispatch line to book a ride between 4 p.m. and 4 a.m., and they can communicate via the Zero Tolerance Facebook page, where he posts funny pictures and some photos of people using the service.

Mr. Salter says he would like to create an app for people to book rides with, and he dreams of franchising Zero Tolerance to other cities. But for now he's keeping his other full-time job.

"I haven't made a ton of money. I look at this almost like a community service. The more people who get home safe, the better."

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