Ferrying service in demand as drunk driving fines soar

By Phan Duong   January 7, 2020 | 04:44 pm PT
Ferrying service in demand as drunk driving fines soar
A driver is tested for alcohol level on Hanoi-Hai Phong Expressway, December 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Ba Do.
The crackdown on drunk driving through a new law has sparked a boom in the business of driving drinkers home.

Despite already having done half a dozen trips each, nearly 100 car drivers working for Nguyen Thi Phuong, who provides this service, could be seen late last Saturday doing the rounds of pubs and bars in downtown Hanoi, waiting for people to stagger out.

"Today [only] 94 of my 200 drivers came for work and so we could not meet the demand," she said. "It's nearly midnight but there are still customers calling."

Every night her drivers, most of whom are government workers working part-time, would camp outside watering holes, and over 40 pubs in Ha Dong, Thanh Xuan and Cau Giay districts even call her to ferry their customers home.

"The cost for five kilometers (3.1 miles) is VND150,000 ($6.5). Customers traveling under 2 kilometers must pay VND100,000 ($4.3)."

Since the Law on Preventing Alcohol's Harmful Effects came into effect on January 1 with severe fines for drunk driving, the number of customers seeking Phuong's services has skyrocketed, with many opting for it despite only drinking a little.

Now cyclists and electric motorbike riders face fines of VND400,000-600,000 ($17-26) while motorcyclists and car drivers could be fined VND6-8 million and VND30-40 million, double the old levels, and everyone could lose their licenses for 22-24 months.

She has started hiring more drivers and expanded her service to Uong Bi and Ha Long towns in northern Quang Ninh Province.

Her drivers have faced many awkward situations in the four years she has been running this business: customers have claimed to have lost money, sworn, vomited in the vehicle, or refused to pay.

"The trickiest ones are those so drunk that they cannot even remember their address. The driver has to wait, sometimes for up to two hours, for them to sober up before driving them home."

Her company usually assigns two drivers to a vehicle to avoid trouble.

As the clock struck 9.45 p.m. on Saturday in the central province of Ha Tinh, Vo Hao received a phone call from one of his regular customers. The 32-year-old quickly jumped on a motorbike together with a colleague and drove to a pub on Nguyen Cong Tru Street, and five minutes later met their customer, Nguyen Viet Huynh.

Huynh handed over his car key, and Hao's colleague drove him home while Hao followed behind on his motorbike.

Hao said: "The distance from the pub to the customer's home is about 10 kilometers, and we charge VND200,000 ($8.6). However every time he tips an additional VND100,000 ($4.3)."

Huynh has been a regular customer since last May when he first came up with the idea of offering this driving service to drinkers.

"One time he was drunk and had an accident while his wife and children were in the car, but luckily nothing happened.

"When I started the service, I called him immediately. Since then, he calls us one or two times every week."

Some 30 of Huynh's friends have also become regular customers, he said.

Instead of running ads, he marketed the service at pubs and asked friends and family members to spread the word. In HCMC, he operates in Binh Tan and Tan Phu districts while in Ha Tinh he has expanded the service to 25 major bars.

Hao guarantees a waiting time of no more than five minutes like normal taxi services, but charges VND20,000 ($0.86) per kilometer, twice the taxi rate, even for motorbikes.

Since starting May his business has been serving an average of 500 customers a month, reaching 50-60 per night during weekends and holidays.

"There are customers we turn down, strangers, those drunk senseless and those who are alone."

Last Wednesday, when the law took effect, he got over 100 customers.

"Earlier they would come to us only when heavily drunk, but now even those who just drink a little are calling."

Hao hopes to reach even more customers, especially in Ha Tinh where ride-hailing services do not have as much of a presence as in Hanoi and HCMC.

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