June and December school holidays in Singapore are relatively quiet days for cabbies here. The students and their parents are gone, the well-off and middle-class customers have retreated to their overseas vacations. Taxi business slows down tremendously and competition between cabbies gets "brutal" at times. Yet, the perpetual complaints of non-taxi availability continues incessantly. This is the irony of taxi business in Singapore. No one party is ever satisfied at all time.
In the evening, I see more and more empty cabs on the roads, spreading and multiplying like S.A.R.S. virus. Compounding the "pandemic", is a recent LTA's mandatory rule that requires every taxi to clock at least 250 kilometer/day. Many "lazy" single-shift drivers are now compelled to get a relief driver or spend more time on the road themselves to achieve that mandatory mileage. In addition, more people (ladies included) are becoming taxi drivers as it is now considered a viable carrier choice. Moreover, many decent paying jobs are taken away by foreign talents, forcing retrenched PMET to become taxi drivers. At any moment, we've close to about 20,000 taxis on the road in Singapore.
I can live with increased competition. My most basis strategy is to be the first empty cab in the view of my prospective passenger. If there's another empty cab in front of me, I would slow down so that I'm two blocks behind him or turn onto a different street that he's not in. The problem is, everywhere I turn there's always a cab in front or beside me.
Sometimes, when I'm the first cab on the road and a passenger comes into view with a flagging arm, the cab on my right would race up to beat me to the passenger. Most passenger don't realize or think too much of the fairness of the situation and just get into the cab that comes to them first. This is an example of the "brutality" of taxi business here and I believe elsewhere in the world too. I usually let the ugly situation pass and work on my next fare. I could spend an hour or so without a single fare on bad days.
Occasionally, I've passengers who took exception of such desperate, poaching cabbies and would punish them by waving them away and take my cab instead. Some delights me by proclaiming that they would complain to LTA of such dangerous driving and I would instantly volunteer to be a witness. Now, another risky driving habit of "hungry" taxi drivers is dashing-out from minor road onto the main road though another taxi is close-by on the main road. These "desperadoes" just want to be ahead of their "competitor", regardless of the dangers they posed to oncoming traffic.
In any barrels of trades there will always be some rotten apples. To me, the most heartbreaking situation is reading in the media, of taxi drivers quarreling or fighting with each other on the road. I've yet to get involved in any altercation with my "comrades". I hope such a day will never come.
Generally speaking, the impression of Singaporean cabbies is not very favorable from what I read and heard from various sources. Nevertheless, in my opinion, the majority of taxi drivers in Singapore are mostly co-operative, decent and law abiding citizens. They share the same frustration, hardship and mundane of their job but at the same time, enjoy the fun and excitement of eking a living behind the wheel.
Now, away from my "rhetoric", allow me to share with you an interesting trip to a wrong destination because I wasn't paying attention to a single alphabet.
Last night, a well-dressed, middle-aged Indian couple boarded my cab at Night Safari and said in strong Indian accent - "Tuas Street", please".
In a haste to get away from Night Safari after an hour of frustrating wait there, I forgot to reconfirm the destination with the couple and headed straight to Jurong Industrial Estate via K.J.E where Tuas Street is located.
Let me tell you one thing about cab driving. I don't feel too tired or sleepy as long as I'm busy and moving. Once I get stuck in a really bad traffic jam, or in a rank for an hour, my energy depletes. It's not driving the cab that exhausts me, it's the sitting still that does it. My mind goes blank!.
Now, coming back to my Indian couple, a few questions did float in my mind, though. Why would a couple want to go to a quiet industrial estate in a late evening? Maybe they are the bosses of a factory and wanted to do some work there, I reasoned. Anyway, I wasn't too excited about the deserted drop-off point because it meant I had to cruise empty for 10km to the next nearest housing estate, after they had departed.
"Sir, which Tuas Street you want to drop off?" I asked when we entered the sprawling industrial estate
"Excuse me. Sir. Why it's so dark and deserted here? Where are we?" the gentleman asked with startled looks. The couple had been in serious conversation throughout the journey and obviously wasn't paying attention to the surrounding till then.
"We are in Jurong Industrial Estate". I replied instantly.
"I'm supposed to return to my hotel in Tras Street". he said calmly.
"O.M.G, I've got you to "Tuas Street" instead of "Tras Street". Both sounds alike with a different in a single alphabet" I apologized profusely.
"No problem. I understand. Please bring me to Tras Street in Tanjong Pagar". he responded in a tone with no hint of annoyance and a smile.
It was my good fortune to have met such an understanding and pleasant Indian couple, who not only paid the full fare but rewarded me with a small tip in spite of my mistake. To me, this was something rare in Singapore. If you drove a taxi, you would know too.
P/S: You may wish to read some of the comments of this post in "The Real Singapore" (Link) and TR Emeritus (Link)