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South Africans appear to be drinking more, says Ride-hailing service drivers and scientists

By Shaun Smillie Time of article published Oct 10, 2020

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Johannesburg - They are the kind of clients Clarence could do without. They are the very drunk customers that spill out of Joburg’s pubs and clubs in the wee hours of, usually, Saturday or Sunday mornings.

Often one of these revellers will vomit in the Bolt driver’s car while he is taking them home.

“Then I have to stop working and go to a 24-hour car wash, because no one will want to sit in a car where someone has vomited,” says Clarence, who preferred not to give his name.

Even though ride-hailing services like Uber and Bolt charge the client for the cleaning bill, for Clarence it can mean two hours out of his day when he could be on the road and making money.

Clarence and other ride-hailing service drivers have noticed that South Africans appear to be drinking more, and they are not the only ones. Scientists across the world have taken note of this, too.

And they have even given it a name. It is known as the Uber effect, where people are drinking more and using ride-hailing services because they don’t have to worry about driving home or being coherent enough to catch a regular taxi or public transport.

In a recent study published in the journal Regional Science and Urban Economics, researchers found that in US towns and cities where Uber had been introduced, binge drinking had increased by 3.7% before lockdown had begun.

The researchers concluded that the taxi app enabled people to drink more, as they could leave their cars at home. Their study examined 117 urban areas across the US, where Uber had operated since 2012. In total, 1800 adults were involved.

What they found was that people weren’t going out more, but they were drinking more than they used to. The average person in the study was going out five times a month. Young, middle-class men were the age group using taxi ride-hailing services and engaged in most of the binge drinking, the study found.

It appears that no similar study has been done in South Africa, but from talking to ride-hailing service drivers like Clarence, it seems more people are binge drinking. Charlie, another Bolt driver, who also wanted to remain anonymous, said he, too had problems with passengers vomiting in his car. He said while the company would charge the client and he would be reimbursed, it was a hassle.

“It’s kind of difficult to submit the claim because we have to prove everything,” he says. “At the end of the day they will pay you, but it takes time.”

He says over the years he has noticed that people are drinking more.

“We don’t really know much about this in South Africa, but it’s an interesting question,” says Professor Charles Parry, director: Alcohol, Tobacco & Other Drug Research Unit, Medical Research Council of SA.

“You might be reducing harm on the road, but you might be increasing violence in homes when someone comes home drunk.”

Parry adds that increased binge drinking can cause long-term harm such as cancer and heart disease. But for Clarence, dealing with those blind drunks on a Friday night remains the bane of his job.

“Sometimes he has to carry them to their front door, ring the bell and make sure they get inside safely. “Yeah, my brother,” he sighs, “people are drinking more, especially after this lockdown.”

The Saturday Star

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