9 p.m. deadline throws Seoul off its game

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9 p.m. deadline throws Seoul off its game

People line up at a bus station in Gangnam District, southern Seoul on Jan.12 [NEWS1]

People line up at a bus station in Gangnam District, southern Seoul on Jan.12 [NEWS1]

 
A 54-year-old executive of a large company was recently very confused when he called a car service after having a dinner. He called for one in the Gwanghwamun area, central Seoul, at around 9 p.m. but had to wait for over an hour.  
 
“I realized it’s really difficult to call the car service after 9 p.m,” the man said. “Now I make reservations in advance at around 5 p.m. and try to finish the dinner at least before 8:30 p.m.”
 
As the strengthened social distancing guidelines force all restaurants, bars and cafes to shut at 9 p.m., demand for car services during the evening time sharply rose.  
 
According to Kakao Mobility, which runs car service, some 75.5 percent of all calls from customers during the Jan. 18 to Jan. 31 period came from evening — 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.  
 
In November, when the guideline was not yet effective, calls from those time period only accounted for some 31.7 percent. Calls between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. were roughly 53.6 percent.  
 
“Demand for Kakao Mobility’s chauffeur service was very high between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. before but now it is very high between 6 p.m and 10 p.m.,” said a spokesperson for Kakao Mobility. “With the tightened social distancing guidelines, more people are likely to go back home early.”  
 
Fares have increased. Last year, the fare for a customer who wished to go Suji, Gyeonggi, from Gwanghwamun in central Seoul was about some 35,000 won ($31), but it is about 60,000 won these days. 
 
“As it became more difficult for customers to call a car service, we suggested a higher fare. People have no choice but accept it,” a car service source said. “But that doesn’t mean the driver earns more money. Because the number of calls drivers received a day plunged compared to past, they prefer taking customers who wish to travel far.”  
 
Taxi drivers are also suffering. As people have to go at home at around 9 p.m., they prefer public transportation, such as buses or subways, as they are cheaper than taxis.  
 
“These days I only have one customer around 9 p.m. and have none after that,” said Kim Young-hwan, a taxi driver.
 
The 9 p.m. deadline is causing other problems.
 
As the government prohibits all gatherings of five or more, it is virtually impossible to have hoesik, or after-work dinners, with co-workers.  
 
“I’m really worried these days as the restriction on gathering prevents communication between employees,” said Moon Sung-joon, a spokesperson for SK Group. “Older generation and younger generation used to spend time and communicate through hoesik but those are not allowed these days.”  
 
For people who wish to eat, drink and enjoy themselves indoors, hotels are scrambling to strengthen their package lineups.  
 
Andaz Seoul Gangnam introduced a Ladies & Guys Night Out package that allows customers to have a night in a suite with lots of food and wine. The package also includes hangover cures and ramyeon that Koreans enjoy eating in the morning to overcome a bad hangover.  
 
The package is fully booked until end of next month, according to Andaz Seoul Gangnam.  
 
BY LEE SO-KI, CHU IN-YOUNG   [chea.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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