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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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