Sunday, 24 December 2017

Ten Years as a Singaporean Cabby


Today, I'm precisely 70 years old.

For the past several weeks, the thought of writing a recollection of my 70 years of somewhat eventful life has kept surfacing in my mind. I hesitated for the reason that I had not been accustomed to sharing my personal life in publication, albeit what was previously written in this blog.

At present, my memory is surprisingly good and dependable but a sudden change is always possible. Therefore, in this blog post, I shall only summarize veraciously my fond memories of my life as a cabby in the last 10 years and will make no effort in fine writing but endeavour to state facts of my taxi driver's life in such a way as to make them as interesting, intelligible and anecdotal as possible.

Today is also the day I had to surrender my TVDL (Taxi Vocational Driving License) to LTA as I would surely fail my compulsory medical test at Tan Tock Seng Hospital due to acute Glaucoma.

I'm now partially blind and is legally unfit to drive a cab although our LTA permits a taxi driver to continue driving till the age of 75 subject to passing a yearly medical test from 73 at Government Hospital.

The medical test fee is $200 but the actual test is extremely stringent, involving a thorough medical examination and a dexterity driving test. I decided to skip the test as I know I would surely fail the visual acuity test. My fate is sealed.

Now, what I write in these pages are not my autobiography but rather my enduring recollections, knowledge and experiences as a cabby and my impressions of men and women as I know them as passengers in my cab.

For a starter, I clearly recalled my needless fear on my first day as a cabby. My apprehension was not not knowing my routes but rather I was worried that I might pick up a friend or ex-colleague as my passenger. Then, I was bashful to be a taxi driver and had kept my new job a secret. Before becoming a taxi driver, I was an executive with a spacious office of my own but by a twist of fate, I got cooped up in a tiny confine of a driver's seat as a taxi driver.

Only my immediate family members knew my downward career switch and they gave me encouraging words to give it a try. With their support and encouragement, my transition to my new job was made much easier. I quickly came to term with my new circumstances and crushed my ego. I also took comfort in the pleasing fact that I was placing decent meals on the table for my family although as an unglamorous cabby.

In the beginning, I kept reminding myself with false pride that my job as a taxi driver would probably be temporary one as I continued to hurt for a more “respectable” career. But with God’s grace, it turned out to be otherwise a decade-long job and I've no regret whatsover.

Initially, I started driving with Comfort for a year as a hirer, sharing my taxi with about four relief drivers. None of my relief drivers stayed with me for more than three months due to various reasons. As a hirer and rookie, the stress and pressure of having to pay a daily rental of $110 was nerve cracking and always put me on an edge.

In total, I spent six years driving in the night shift and four years in the day. In my day shift, my first passenger was always my wife whom I send to work for free, which was the least I could do for her. 

After I fulfilled my first contractual year as a hirer with Comfort, I swiftly switched to become a relief driver. It was a wise move for driving then became less stressful and profitable. I never return to be a hirer again.

I drove for almost all the taxi operators in Singapore like Comfort, Transcab, Silver Cab and SMRT except PrimeTaxi. My last “taxi” was a rented private hired car with Grab. I’ll elaborate on the current taxi market and my driving experience with Uber and Grab at the end of this blog post.

I remembered on my first day as a relief driver doing the night shift, I drove for about five hours with one five minute toilet break at a secluded roadside. It was almost midnight when I headed to meet my taxi buddies at a Jurong coffee shop that I accidentally hit a road curb and my taxi crashed into a drain. Fortunately, the accident happened near the coffee shop where my buddies were waiting for me and I was uninjured. Shockingly, eight of us were able to lift the cab back to the road. We were 10 years younger and stronger then.

When I got home, my wife greeted me with a hug and said: "You have the typical taxi driver smell and beer". I told her about the accident and my beer treat for my buddies, many of whom are still my closest friends today.

I believe taxi drivers have always been a fascinating lot to most people and there remain so much you do not know about them. What are their background and driving habits?. How hard and why they become a cabby?. Who is a good and bad cabby?. How much do they earn a day? What impact has Uber and Grab on them now?.

Nowadays most Singaporean taxi drivers are fairly well educated, some at diploma level and bilingual too with a good grasp of both their mother tongue and English. They come from all works of life. Some are a former police officer, businessman, private tutors, ex-convicts, PMET, hawkers, labourers and you name it, they are in as taxi drivers.

A typical taxi has two drivers (day & night shift), splitting the rental cost and 24 hours usage equally among them.

A driver usually collects about $25 fare an hour and earns about $12.50 an hour after deducting fuel, rental and other expenses. On a monthly basis, a cabby typically earns about $3,500 for 10 hours of driving every day but without medical benefits, annual leave, CPF contributions and other perks of salaried employees. He is basically self-employed like a rental HDB shopkeeper.

Every morning, a day shift driver would usually head first to a housing estate like AMK, Jurong, Yishun, Woodlands etc.... as there are always passengers going to work from estates. If the passenger’s destination ends in the city, the driver would usually return to the housing estates again for new passengers. For the night shift driver, the agenda is the reverse but after the peak hours, there is no telling where the driver would end up.

One of the perk as a taxi driver is travelling to places in Singapore you would never go on your own or you never knew it existed. Although I've been on the roads for 10 years, I was always discovering new roads and places in Singapore.

Like new places, I get to meet new people every day. Some of my passengers get embedded my memory forever. Here are a few:-

On Day 1 as a cabby, my first passenger was a white Caucasian man in his fifties with white long sleeve shirt and grey trousers. He was fat with silvery hair and a bulging stomach. He got into my cab at Mount Sinai around 8am and wanted to drop off at Orchard Tower. I knew the way and promptly dropped him off about 15 minutes later.

After he left, I heard a ringing tone inside my cab. As it was my first driving day and in my excitement at successfully completing my first trip, I thought the sound was from my faulty taxi meter. It never occurred to my mind that the sound was a ringing tone of a cell phone which the white man had dropped in my cab and his wife was on the line trying to contact me. Later, I obediently returned the cell phone to the owner and was rewarded $5.

On the Last Day of my driving career, which was two days ago, I ferried the most beautiful lady passenger I have ever seen, from the airport to the newest hotel called YOTEL at 366 Orchard Road. Like most passengers, she kept to herself and spoke only a word of thanking at the hotel drop off. She was tall with a gorgeous body, fair skin, big sparkling eyes, silky black long hair and thick eyebrows. She would easily qualify as Miss Universe Philippine 2018 like former Miss Rachel Peters.

My best passenger was the one who gave me the biggest tip in my entire driving career. He was a Korean man in business suit. At 8 pm, he boarded my cab at Esplanade and wanted to drop off at Fullerton Hotel, a mere 3 kilometres away with a $6.00 fare, I thought. Another Korean man was with him and they spoke in Korean. The older man in his sixties was the boss as the younger guy was always answering in a pliant tone.

When we arrived at the hotel after the short trip, the Boss passed me a $50.00 note and asked me to keep the change. I never met another generous man like him again.

The worst passengers were a group of four office girls whom I picked up at Star Vista on one afternoon during lunchtime. They want to drop off at the driveway of their office at Ghim Moh Community Club. An unloading lorry had blocked the driveway and I was forced to drop them a mere meter away from their preferred sheltered area. The fat girl who sat beside me was furious and filed a complaint with Comfort, resulting in me getting the sack.

In general, if the passenger did not reply or uttered only a monosyllabic answer, I took it as my cue to be quiet and to just drive. Usually, passengers travelling in groups tend to ignore the cabby, talking among themselves as if you are transparent. In this way, I could not help eavesdropping on them complaining about the Government, and workers complaining about their bosses.

Often I’ve passengers who, literally made me feel sick. Like the old man, I picked up in Jurong polyclinic who coughed and sneezed all the way to Choa Chu Kang or the drunken young man who vomited in my cab. Then there was the Chinaman who burped and burped from a heavy meal of "ma la huo guo", or spicy steamboat throughout the trip.

Taxi drivers are usually helpless when passenger failed to show up at call booking or run away without paying. Every day, however, I would meet at least one or two passengers who are pleasant and polite, saying "please" or "thank you", or making conversation that helped to make a lonely job less monotonous.

Only one female passenger I took from the AMK to Pasir Ris sent Comfort an e-mail complimenting me, saying: "I am really impressed with his job attitude. Thank you, Uncle!" It made my day.

In Singapore, if you drive a taxi, you’re everyone’s Uncle or Auntie irrespective of your age because that’s how a passenger would frequently address a taxi driver.

Here are some secrets of the taxi trade for the uninitiated.

It's easy to get passengers in the morning when people are heading to work from HDB estates.

To earn $3 more in the evening, go into the CBD and pick up passengers while the CBD surcharge applies from 5pm to midnight. Sorry, but people waiting just outside the CBD will have to just keep waiting. Even inside the CBD, cabs will be scarce just before the surcharge hours begin.

Heartland towns like Woodlands and Semarang offer slim pickings in the evenings because residents hardly go out then. But hospitals everywhere are good places to find passengers, especially after evening visiting hours.

Overall, demand for taxis far exceeds supply during the morning and evening peak hours, so a cabby who is disciplined about driving during these periods can earn a decent living.

There are downsides as well. Getting caught for breaking traffic rules like beating the traffic light meant a $200 fine in less than a second - my earnings from about 18 hours of work!

Developing haemorrhoid from sitting for hours is a common ailment among cabbies, along with backaches, high blood pressure, kidney diseases, stroke and heart attacks. Having said these and in total honesty, I would love to continue driving till my last breath if our law and my health permit.

Name me a job that allows an old man the freedom to decide how much he wishes to earn, when to eat, rest and sleep on the job.

What better ways to spend one's time at twilight days then to experience new happenings every day and get paid at the same time?. But alas, it's over for me.

Today, I've a new found respect and admiration for taxi drivers who had survived more than 30 years behind the steering wheel and still going to places.

In conclusion, this blog post would be incomplete without a brief mention of the recent dramatic transformation of the taxi market in Singapore with the entry of Uber and Grab about four years ago.

Uber and Grab are essentially middle-man companies that provide a  mobile platform for passengers and drivers to complete a "hail-ride" at an outrageously cheaper price and faster quality service, compared to traditional taxi rides.

But they are in a very powerful position with the power to determine not only the price (fare) a passenger pays but also what a driver would get at the end of a trip. This opens the door to easy expliotation of the drivers by these middlemen who owns no vehicles, abeilt operating a private car leasing company under a separate business entity. The evil deeds of middlemen are common knowledge throughout the centuries.

However, the success of Uber is phenomenal and worldwide with operations in 600 cities and still expanding.

In Singapore, they had de-monopolized taxi operators like ComforDelgro and dominated the taxi trade with 70,000 private-hired cars compared to 24,000 taxis.

Out of curiosity, I drove a private-hire car with Uber and Grab for about three months and discovered that without their monetary "incentives" for drivers who achieved a set of tough "criteria" in a week, I was earning half of what I would normally earn as a traditional taxi driver.

Why? Because Uber and Grab fares are dirt cheap and they deduct a 20% commision on these cheap fares from the drivers taking. Apart from these two factors, a private car using petrol is more costly compared to subsidised diesel of taxis although rental is only marginally cheaper. On an average, a driver earns only about 35% of the fare after the 20% commission, 20% fuel and 25% rental. Out of a $10.00 fare, the driver earns a nett amount of $3.50 without Uber/Grab incentives. It's simply not worthwhile to drive for them if you're a cabby.

Therefore, a cabby should remain as relief driver but use Uber or Grab mobile application to increase their income with more call jobs. Leave the "Uber/Grab" business to non-professional taxi drivers.

Sadly, a traditional taxi driver who fails to keep up with technological advancement will realise that their rice bowls are porcelain made without iron cladding.

For me, as long as I'm healthy, I'll probably find another job as a security guard, petrol pump attendant, gardener, 7-11 counter staff or operates an online household and hardware sales site.

I shall continue to post at this site should I have something interesting or worthwhile to write.

May God Bless Everyone of My Reader.

Merry X'Mas & Happy New Year!!! Cheers
Also, Also




15 comments:

Chris said...

What a great blog post. Thanks for your years of service to Singapore. May you have a very happy holiday season and a great New Year.

James Lim said...

Hi Chris,

Thank you very much for your wonderful compliments.

May you have a blessed X'mas and Happy New Year too.

Regards
James Lim

Rima Reyka said...

I enjoy reading your blog post and it is just amazing how you are still blogging at the age of 70!!! I hope I can blog as long as I live, write just about anything that revolve around my life. I am sorry to hear that you can no more continue driving and wish you get another job that suits you. Wish you a Merry Christmas and wonderful New Year too!!! Wish you be happy and healthy always!!! All the best Uncle James!!! :)

James Lim said...

Hi, Rima Reyka,

It's so sweet and kind of you to write such heartwarming words for me.

I sincerely appreciate them.

May you have a wonderful life and happiness forever.

Regards

James Lim

concerned citizen said...

Mr Lim, is sad to know that you cannot drive any more, you truly inspires me with your words. I wish you a merry x'mas and good health in the new year.

James Lim said...

Hi Concerned Citizen,

I know you're one of many fervent followers and I must say a big thank you for your respect and love for this old man through the years. Thank You!. God Bless You & Your Family!

Regards
James Lim

James Lim said...

My article was published on TREmeritus ( http://www.tremeritus.com/2017/12/26/today-im-precisely-70-years-old/ ) and for the benefits of readers at this blog post, I took the liberty of reproducing some to the comments made at TREmeritus:

Quote

From :
Rabble-rouser:
December 26, 2017 at 6:43 pm (Quote)
@ James Lim:
First of all, let me congratulate you, HAPPY 70TH BIRTHDAY! MATE!
Sad to learn that you won’t be continuing your taxi-driving career but then again, I don’t think that there will be any bright prospects left for vocational driving. Technology will disrupt it all the way to zero base.
Your narrative on your downward career path brings a tear to my eyes. It shows how the PAP especially the late LKY had failed us – the native born-S’poreans. The PAP falsely accused us (sons of the soil, defenders (ie. NS) of the land) as being lazy, stupid & inferior to the incoming foreigners. What a load of b***s*it! The PAP were responsible for the decimation of the local PME class. The fact that PAP relies on foreigners to enact their vote-buying & votebanking scheme. The PAP continually give out free scholarships, bursary, govt jobs & HDB priority scheme to foreigners as a means of converting PR into new citizen converts, vote-buying their way for over 50 years of power. All the good stuff goes to the new citizens.
S’poreans had been bullied, instilled with fear & indoctrinated with fake news & distorted media reports – we had wool pull over our eyes for so long.
The PAP had reconfigured the Economy to benefit their own while throwing the honest, hardworking & decent local folks right under the bus depriving a right to an honest & affordable living.
Justifying their high pay, yet they are failing in whatever they’re doing. SG$40 million scam from Skillfuture; & next, a whopping US$422 million or about SG$570 million in punitive fines for bribery charges by Keppel Offshore. And one of PAP values was Anti-corruption ie. the basis for the high Ministerial Pay. What a load of b***s*it.
SMRT services is failing, Meritocracy is failing everywhere in S’pore. And overall cost is rising everywhere including GST to pay for the Scholar’s failures. And they say that GST rise is being done because Healthcare costs are rising. Excuse me! we’re paying it from our CPF Medisave, not from the govt.
And James’ clever insight of Uber & Grab revenues are due to shareholders & new equity funding subsidizing their ridership. They are unicorn companies hoping for an IPO to payoff their investors. If this is not a PONZI Scheme, what is? Their ride sharing operations & revenues aren’t even sustainable.
James’ experience & insightful views are invaluable but like many locals, they’re never appreciate in wage repressive & hierachical, authoritarian S’pore.

James Lim said...

Hi, Everyone,

There were many comments at tremeritus (http://www.tremeritus.com/2017/12/26/today-im-precisely-70-years-old/ ) on my blog post . Some of the comments were uncalled for but mostly positive. I would like to share with you a comment that was fair and well written:

Quote:

How pathetic of some commentators to twist a generous personal sharing of one’s life experiences on a blog to make life ‘more interesting’ into some kind of political vendetta.

James, as I understand it, wrote on his personal blog and the was picked up by TRE.
Nothing in what he said suggests that he was seeking sympathy; indeed I have read some of his other posts and for someone in his situation displays an abundance of optimism despite the fact that circumstances seem to have dealt him a bad hand.
It is noting short of disgusting to suggest that

He needs to be congratulated, as Rabble Rouser has recognised.
For a young upstart like From Cradle to Grave to suggest that he might be lacking in Wisdom is just a bit much. Indeed, it is the latter himself who is presumptions, ignorant and ‘behaving as if he knows everything’.

Nor should he be challenged to reveal who he voted for. In the final analysis, it is govern policies and not political affiliations that ultimately affect the ordinary lives of people like James. Indeed, it can be said that there was a time when many (though admittedly not all) government polices WERE DIRECTED TOWARDS improving the lot of SINGAPOREANS. Some people have forgotten that, and others like From Cradle to Grave probably still in HIS cradle oblivious to what was going on.

All this talk of DEMOCRACY would never have been possible because the education we have might never have been. It is this WHIGGISHNESS, the tendency to see the past through the eyes of the present, that show a patent lack of appreciation of the efforts and sacrifices that people like James and other Pioneer Generation members have had to endure and live through.

In truth, real IGNORANCE is displayed here by some of the commentaries being made.

Anonymous said...

Hello James

This comment
is also reproduced from TRE. This comment may not sound very polite but has reasonable factual basis. Hope you do not feel offended.

"To born in 1947 & marginalized in 2002 James Lim

As someone who has seen the negative effects of mass immigration since 1997, I have to ask you:

(a) what was your role in the foreign talent policy from 1997 – 2002? (there is no way so many good-paying jobs will have gone to foreigners without the collaboration of james lim-equivalent senior managers)

(b) who did you vote for in 2001, 2006, 2011 & 2015?

for your info my voting record is as follows:
2001: walkover
2006,2011, 2015: oppo"

James Lim said...

Hi, Anon,

In reply to your comment, I would say that I find nothing factual in your comments except
that you would like to know whether I collaborated with management to facilitate the vast inflow of foreign talent to take away local jobs. My answer is no as I was not at a top level management position to affect the company hiring policy.

Now, as to whom I voted for in those mentioned years, I would say that if you read up some of my earlier posts, you should be able to guess correctly my political inclination unless you're mentally handicapped.

Regards
James Lim

Yap Jia Rong said...

Hello Mr James.. Thanks for d posts, enjoyed myself reading through them.. Happy New Year 2018!

Cheers,
JR

Andy said...

Hi Sir James Lim,

I wonder if I have the honour to meet up and learn more from you?

Im a Uber driver with my blog @ uberinginsingapore.blogspot.sg

James Lim said...

Hi, Andy,

No need to address me, Sir. We're Bro.

Sorry to disappoint you that I normally do not meet up
with "strangers" whatever the circumstance or reasons.

However, please be assured that the best way to learn
the trade of driving a cab or private-hired car is
"on-the-job". It's not like attending a lecture or a lesson in class.

Anyway, you don't need or use alot of your brain
in this trade. Just plain common sense should suffice.

Good Luck, Bro...

Regards
James Lim

James Lim said...

Hi, JR,

Thank you for your greetings.

Happy New Year 2018 to you and your family too!

Cheers!!!!

Regards
James Lim

concerned citizen said...

wishing you a happy new year, you can be a consultant to taxi company. why become security guard?