Car jockeys in Singapore

By Asif Ansar, TODAY | Posted: 06 March 2008 1253 hrs

A CLIENT IN OUR OWN CAR: St James PowerHouse car jockey ferrying a drunk clubber home.

SINGAPORE: When you are too smashed to drive yourself home from the club, whom do you call to get behind the wheel of your shiny new sports car?

How about a perfect stranger?

That’s what an increasing number of inebriated night owls are doing — dialling up car jockeys to drive them and their vehicles home in the wee hours of the morning.

While major clubs such as Zouk, Ministry of Sound and St James Power Station have car park valets who provide this service, there are also a number of independent car jockeys who operate alone, as Today found out.

SMOOTH OPERATOR

Some of them like Rick (not his real name) actually put up bills outside pubs and karaoke lounges advertising their drive-home service. His advert — I first saw one pasted on a lamp post outside a KTV bar — states that he’ll drop you home in your car for $70, plus $10 per extra stop.

His clients are mostly regulars, said the 40-something who is a limousine driver by day. “When they call me to drive their cars, I go immediately to clubs and pubs in town and drive them home.”

He drives his Mercedes cab to the bar and takes the customer and his car home before taking another taxi back to his cab.

“I decided to do it for the extra allowance because the income from driving a taxi is not enough,” said Rick, who started moonlighting as a car jockey about four months ago.

Most independent operators like Rick are part-timers who work as cabbies and dispatch riders during the day. Today found this was true of those working at bigger clubs as well — about half of Zouk’s 18 valets-cum-car jockeys are part-timers.

The unaffiliated solo drivers usually pick clients from flashy KTV bars such as Tiananmen at Havelock Road and Lido Palace KTV at Outram Road. These customers tend to be high rollers who drive fancy cars.

And driving home these well-off drunks seem to be quite a lucrative gig, with some independent car jockeys making as much as $400 a night — that’s more than two-and-a-half times the takings of the average cab driver on a single shift.

“If they do four trips a night they could make around $240 to $400. Each trip is worth around $60,” said Lim, who is also a limousine taxi driver. “But a lot of these towkays (big shots) usually would give like $100.”

Taxi operator Comfort DelGro was not able to comment by press time

But guys like Mohd Rawi — one of Zouk’s car jockeys who can be seen jumping in and out of the steady stream of cars lining up outside the club on any weekend — don’t have a fixed rate. All they expect is the cab fare back to the club. Anything else is a bonus, he said.

“Whatever money we get we divide and share. So, it’s roughly around $70 to $80, including tips from the sending-home service,” said the 53-year-old, who has been with Zouk from its inception 16 years ago.

EVERYBODY’S DOING IT

Whether it’s making $400 a night or $80 a night, one thing is for certain: More partygoers are asking to be driven home compared to as recently as six months ago, said car jockeys.

“There are more people using the drive-home services compared to one year ago, maybe even six months ago,” said the operations manager of GN Valet, who wanted to be known only as Anthony. His two-year-old firm handles valet and car jockey services for St James.

“On a busy night we could get around 15 drive-homes as opposed to one or two previously,” said Anthony, who used to be a valet. His company usually deploys 25 valets on a weekend and charges $50 per trip and $10 extra per stop.

The most likely reason for the service’s increase in popularity? Police roadblocks.

In a crackdown a couple of weekends ago, the traffic police nabbed 29 drunk drivers at roadblocks near popular drinking haunts. Another 61 drivers were caught in February alone.

Businessman Hantoyo Halim, who drives a Mini Cooper, said: “I started using the valets because I am scared of being caught at the police roadblocks. It’s not worth losing your licence over.”

BUT IS IT RIGHT?

Bernard Lim, executive vice-president of LifeBrandz, which operates the Ministry of Sound, said he would be more circumspect about passing his keys to independent car jockeys. “I know they exist … We don’t promote these services,” he said.

“I personally wouldn’t use them.”

The reasoning: Never mind your expensive car, would you trust your drunk, passed-out, defenceless self at the hands of a complete stranger? After all, it’s a service that isn’t even regulated by the Land Transport Authority (LTA).

“Owners use car jockey services at their own risk,” the LTA told Today.

Maybe people are simply a lot more trusting — or less clever — when they’re drunk.

Eve Ang, a 28-year-old sales manager, who chooses between her Mini Cooper, Mercedes SLK and “sometimes” her Toyota Vios, uses car jockey serces, but she draws the line when it comes to independent car jockeys, using only valets she recognises and who work for big clubs like Zouk.

“I am usually the last one in the car after they have dropped my friends off,” she said. “I don’t think I will let a car jockey drive my car unless I know them. I have stumbled into cabs dead drunk and told them where to take me, and to wake me up when we get there.”

The car jockeys Today spoke to were quick to point out that they take extra precautions when driving a lone drunk female customer home.

“We never touch them,” said Zouk’s Mohd Rawi. “We will drive them wherever they want to go — Sengkang, Hougang, wherever — and if the lady falls asleep and she stays at a condo we usually ask the security guards to wake them up.”

At least there’s one person in the car who’s thinking straight. – TODAY/ra

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