Cheers - a valet service to drink to

After a night of drinking, Mr Sean Tan usually gets into his car to head home. But the 32-year-old accountant does not take the wheel.

Rather, a valet driver, more commonly known as a "jockey", drives him home in his own car for a fee.

Mr Tan is part of a growing pool of drinkers opting for such services to enjoy their night out while avoiding drink driving. "I can drink without worrying that I will get caught and lose my licence," he said.

In the past two years, demand for drive-home valet services has risen by up to 60 per cent, said seven valet companies that The Straits Times spoke to.

"We have seen a significant rise of between 50 and 60 per cent for drive-home services since starting out about two years ago," said a spokesman for iDrive Valet Services.

"Our customers are not just executives or business owners. We're also seeing a younger crowd, especially on Saturdays," she added.

There are at least 40 valet companies now, up from about five just four years ago, said Mr Gary Yeo of Drive U Home, which was established seven years ago and is one of the first valet companies here.

Friday nights are usually the busiest, said Mr Alvin Cheng of DH Valet. On average, he gets 60 to 80 requests on a Friday night from customers at popular drinking spots such as Holland Village and Clarke Quay. The number of requests ranges from 40 to 60 on Saturdays and 20 to 30 on Sundays.

Many valet companies attribute the growing demand to greater public awareness of the dangers of drink driving as well as stricter and more frequent law enforcement.

"There are more roadblocks and Traffic Police operations now. Most people know that it is a serious offence, so they don't want to take the risk," said the iDrive Valet Services spokesman.

Stricter enforcement might well be having a deterrent effect. Last year, 2,297 people were arrested for drink driving, a 23 per cent drop from 2,982 in 2014, Traffic Police figures show.

Drink-driving accidents fell 26.4 per cent from 182 in 2014 to 134 last year.

Those who use such valet services usually book via a phone hotline at least half an hour in advance.

Most companies charge a basic fee of around $38 in cash for a single destination, and $10 for each additional drop-off.

Some have launched mobile apps such as ValetUncle, which was rolled out last December. ValetUncle co-founder Edwin Lim gets up to 40 bookings a night through its app, compared with about 10 via its phone hotline.

"Younger customers prefer using the app because it might be too loud in the club to make a phone call," said Mr Lim. "They can also pinpoint their exact location on the app using GPS (Global Positioning System)."

There is also a crowdsourcing app for drive-home valet services, which works with several valet firms. The app, called Jocky, was launched last month by a local start-up of the same name.

The team of five at Jocky hopes the app will help reinvent the industry. Jocky does not hire its own drivers but works with valet companies to match an available driver to the nearest customer. Eventually, it hopes to engage freelancers.

"Our idea is to use crowdsourcing to offer drive-home services on demand," said its CEO Bernard Lim.

The Jocky app aims to help the industry maximise its resources, as companies are alerted to jobs near their locations, Mr Lim said.

The app also offers cashless payment, an option which financial consultant Champ Tan, 31, appreciates. "It's more convenient for me because I may not have enough cash with me after drinking," he said.

Before he was introduced to valet services about a year ago, he would drive home first after work and then go out by taxi or other forms of public transport. "Now, I can meet my friends directly after work and at the end of the night, we can all get home safely," Mr Tan said.

This article was first published on April 16, 2016.
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