Sunday 11 March 2012

Can't Get A Cab!

Yesterday, the obsequious Straits Time published an interesting article on the difficulties of getting a cab in Singapore. They offered 4 reasons why you couldn't get a cab when you need one and also offered dubious solutions to solve the problems. I would like to give my take from a cabby's perspective.

From the onset, I would like to say that as a cabby, "I'll do the impossible at once but miracle takes a bit longer" and at the same time, I wonder why our brilliant, million dollar Transport Minister is not able to solve all the problems, since he is a crop of the PAP's best mind.

Now, lets get back to the Straits Times article. It says: 

1. Vehicle available but driver may not be. 

The Problem:
Have to wait 15 minutes for a cab during peak hours, Sunday morning (no peak hour) also have to wait. Not enough cab, lah!. Want more cabs on the road!!.

The Reason:
Present fleet of 27,000 taxis are under-utilised. 30% of taxis are single shift driver and some drivers stop driving once they hit their take home target income. While others use their taxi as their personal car. So, not all taxis are on the road every minute!.

The Solution:
Get all the 27,000 taxis on the road all the time. If not all, at least more! LTA is thinking of mandating that every taxi must clock a minimum mileage a day and each company must have a certain percentage of its fleet on the road every day!

My Take:
Conversely, get everyone to be on the road and take taxi all the time. If not all, at least more!. Impossible, right?. Why?. Because not everyone needs to commute all the time. Similarly, not all taxi drivers want to ply the road all the time. They naturally "rush-around" the road when human traffic is heavy during peak hours and "go slow" when human traffic thinned. 

By the way, on a normal 12 hours night shift, my busy time is only between 5pm to 10pm (4 hours). After this peak period, there are more tigers (taxis) than wild boars (passengers) and I had to compete with my "taxi buddies" to nap them or cruise around empty, searching for passengers. Very often, I had to queue at taxi ranks or airport for long period, waiting for the few passengers available. My "profitable" period is, therefore, only 33% of a normal 12 hours shift. Who can help me when passengers are scare and I could not cover my fuel and rental for the day or make only $50 for a tedious 10 hours work?.

When LTA says they want to compel taxi driver to clock a minimum mileage, they must be "talking cock". Can they effectively enforce their mandate or is it the right thing to do?. NEA do not compel a hawker stall to stay open when there are no customers around. NEA also do not insists that a percentage of a canteen stalls must be open every day. Don't forget that Singapore is a capitalist mixed economy with an open business environment and free market. Unless, the government takes over the running of the taxi business, they will find it extremely difficult to regulate independent business operators like taxi drivers or hawkers.

Now, if we're willing to queue at a popular hawker stall during lunch hours for the food we like, what's the fuss about waiting 15 minutes for a cab during peak hour?. If you don't like waiting, go over to the next stall for the food you dislike. Likewise, take the MRT or bus or better, drive your own car. 

Don't want to wait for taxis? Simple!. You can privately arrange with a taxi driver to pick you up at certain time and place and pay him handsomely, like $50 per trip. You'll have a private chauffeur at your disposal. 
2.  Cabbies earn more from call booking.

The Problem:
Why cabbies don't stop but cruise around to wait for a call booking. Also they disappear before surcharge hours and gather at lucrative locations.

The Reason:
Taxi can't stop at certain designated roads inside CBD or near a bus stop as mandated by LTA. It's natural for taxi drivers to try and maximise their earning through booking fees and surcharges. They are discouraged from picking passengers with no surcharges. All these is because of the present fare structure.

The Solution:
Dismantle all surcharges and implement a high flag down fee instead. Taxi fare should be raised to a point where people can get a cab without difficulty.

My Take:
Don't raise taxi fare any more. Half of taxi commuters will be gone if fares are increased further and I'll be jobless. Instead, expand the CBD zone to cover a much wider area. Many complaints of difficulties in getting a cab are those commuters at the fringes of CBD which has no $3 surcharge. Relocating the EPR gantries is costly. Instead, install sign boards stating the applicable $3 surcharges at taxi stands at fringe of CBD, like those at the EXPO at Changi South. Also, install "Start of Taxi Surcharge" at main roads leading to the expanded CBD., like start of North Bridge Road, Jalan Besar, Newton Road, Orchard Road, Beach Road, etc......Many hotel guests within the expanded zone would be greatly relieved. 

3. Narrow window for handover. 

The Problem:
It's very hard to hail a taxi around 4pm to 5pm because taxi drivers are changing shift.

The Reason:
An estimated 70% of cabs have two drivers a day, each working 12 hours per shift and splitting the rental50/50. They normally change shift between 4pm to 5pm or at mutually agreed time between the drivers.

The Solution:
1. Stagger the timing to change shift
2. Taxi company to co-ordinate the shift change time.
3. Impose a surcharge between 4pm to 6pm to get more drivers to work at this time.
4. Change shift only after 24 hours.
5. Encourage driver to change shift in CBD.

My Take. 
Again, above are all unworkable solutions, simply because taxi drivers are independent operators, not like factories workers who can be easily regulated. Drivers change shift based on mutually agreed timing and nobody can regulate that. So, taxi commuters should be made aware of this arrangement and avoid taking a cab at the changing shift hours. Nobody can stop the horrible jam at the Woodland causeway except avoiding it. If you still want a cab and not willing to wait, call your private taxi chauffeur!.

4. Calls go through but no taxis in the areas.

The Problem:
No cabs available for booking after a successful phone call.

The Reason:
Drivers are simply not in the area! In the morning, drivers transport passengers from the heartland to the city or industrial estates and continue to search for fares around these vicinities. So, in the heartland, cabs become scare. Some drivers are apprehensive of taking call booking because they sometime have their call booking cancelled or "No-Show" (no passenger) upon reaching the destination or passengers making multiple bookings, resulting in several taxis arriving at the same location.

The Solution:
The Government intends to tighten service standards for taxi call booking during peak hours from Oct. 1. Taxi drivers must accept 92% of all call bookings and must arrives punctually at destinations.

My Take:
Aiyoh! , these are the typical thinking of those highly paid top civil servants at Government ministries.They implement policies at the top pyramid of their office without a feel of the ground. My company cannot compel me to accept call bookings. At present, if I reject 3 offers of call booking, I'm suspended for 1 hour of call booking offers. After the 1 hour of suspension, my system gets back to normal. If they extend the suspension to 10 hours, it's fine with me because I don't depend on call booking for my "extra" income. If my taxi buddies does the same like me, there will be fewer taxis available for call booking. So, who can regulate an independent operator in business effectively?. None.!

Basically, taxi drivers are not beholden to their company. If I don't lease my cab from SMRT, I can always lease from Comfort or Transcab or five other taxi operators. As a business enterprise, taxi operators do all they can to get as many taxis leased-out as possible to collect rentals instead of having them in their garages as dead assets, incurring taxes. As long as rentals are collected, they don't care about demand in ridership, mileage clocked by each taxi nor how the taxi drivers survive. This is the reality of of Singapore's taxi industry today.

Maybe, Mr. Tan Kin Leng's interactive bidding system might work. (Here) It matches demand and taxi supply with "real time" booking fees. If a customer needs a cab urgently, he can offers a higher booking fee than the fixed fee, like the COE bidding system. In our society, you cannot expect to have the cake and eat it. 

The best solution to all taxi woes is to get a taxi driver as your taxi chauffeur. 

Good Morning, Sir. I'm your taxi chauffeur!


alastairsdixon said...

Unless, the government takes over the running of the cab company, they will find it very difficult to manage separate company providers like cab individuals or hawkers.

cab company in kingston

Anonymous said...

The government should take over running of the cab companies, open the floodgates and allow foreigners to drive taxis too. There will be no shortage of taxis anytime of the day. Cancel booking fee and surcharge during peak hours. Have a higher fare during non-peak hours instead to encourage cab drivers to be on the road during busy hours.

Unknown said...

I would be flattened if all websites gave articles like that.
Srilanka cabs

Krishna said...

I read through your interesting blog; however there is one point that you are missing entirely. You keep saying Singapore is a capitalist economy etc. etc and so acabbies are free to do as they please. Sorry you are dead wrong. Please understand you have chosen to deliver what is and "essential service". You cannot operate as you wish to the detriment of the general public who you have offered to serve for a fee. Will you agree if the public utility shuts off your electricity or gas or water supply or the ambulance chap refuses to come to pick your seriously ailing parents to be rushed to hospital. Immediately you will shout and create a ruckus about poor service and how you have your rights and that those service providers MUST deliver their services to you, whether they like to or not. You, my friend are exactly expected to deliver that same kind of service. You have chosen your line. If you want to operate as a free bird with no one dictating what, when and how you should operate, then go pick another line that provides for that freedom. A lot of what you have said are gross generalisations that have very little basis and smack of a irresponsible attitude and the usual greed to make money when it suits you and to let your clients down without even a blink. please reassess carefull what you want from life and decide. i too am over 55 years old and hence not speaking impetuously. Hope you have a good think again about your current career. Best wishes.

Diary of a Singaorean Cabby said...

Hi, Krishna,

Thanks for your insightful comments and I appreciate it.

You're right on many counts. I think in a free market like ours, buyers and sellers has the freedom of choices due to competitive forces. If buyers are not happy with a source of supply, he is free to buy from a better source. Similarly, if a seller is unable to survive due to poor business as a result of poor service and competition, he could switch trade. Unlike essential public transport like buses and trains, taxis and airlines are not public transport services though they operate under a regulatory body. If a passenger is not happy with SIA or Comfort, they are free to travel with Air India or SMRT.

EconomicsStudent said...

Hi James, do you know roughly how many of your colleagues or is there a significant number of taxi drivers you know who has a daily income target? Do they usually stop driving after they hit this target?


Emiley said...

i think hiring a san francisco cab service is best decision to travel with comfort.

Diary of a Singaorean Cabby said...

Hi, EconomicStudent,

I presume you're a student studying economic, so I shall answer your questions to the best of my knowledge and honesty.

Is there a significant number of taxi drivers who set a daily income target?. Yes, every driver has a sub-conscious "target" of income before they start their shift. It's more of a "hope/wish", not a stone-casted figure/amount (GOAL)that MUST be achieved. In my case, depending which night, I sub-consciously hope/wish that I could collect a certain of fares eg. on Monday, Tuesday & Thurday: about $200 for 8hrs on the road and Wed, Friday & Saturday: about $300 for 8hrs of driving. So, I've a wish not absolute targe/goal. If I can't get my wish, so be it. I still call it a day. In short, yes, I've a "target" like most drivers.

Yes, I stop when I achieved my "target" or when the last passenger is near my house after midnight on poor days...even 3/4hrs before end of my 12hrs shift.

I believe only a small percentage of taxi drivers has a die-die must hit target. Most drivers let the day takes it natural course ie. pick all passengers as they appear.

I hope I've answered your questions correctly. Bye.

EconomicsStudent said...

Thank you for your answers, James. I would like to find out more from your experiences in this area. Is there anyway I can possibly contact you?


Diary of a Singaorean Cabby said...

HI, EConStudent,

State yr email here & I'll get in touch with u. Bye

EconomicsStudent said...

my email is


Unknown said...

taxi service Different vehicle colors define different companies. Cars could be privately owned by their drivers, or they may belong to a particular company. Most taxi drivers rent out their vehicles from a fleet.

HK intern said...

Hi James Lim, I enjoy your blog n can learn a lot from it. Thanks for sharing! I'm wondering r there any way I can contact u?? oh, sorry that forget to introduce myself, I'm an intern from HK, and doing a project about taxi drivers in singapore. Can I ask some questions to you??? Hope can hear from u, do need your help!! Thanks so much

Diary of a Singaorean Cabby said...

Hi, HK Intern,

Please state yr email here & I'll get in touch with u. Bye


HK Intern said...

Hi, Lim James!

How r you today ? so happy that you reply me!
my email address is
Wish u have another nice journey today;)

Taxi Lover said...

Hi James,

Thanks for your interesting article and I learned a lot from it. I am very interested in the Taxi industry in Singapore and I am wondering if I can talk to you to learn more about Taxi drivers and doing Taxi business in Singapore?

Thanks and regards,

Raymond Chan said...

Hi James.

Thanks very much about the article. Very insightful indeed.

if you're available, I would love to understand the taxi industry in SG more and ask you a few more questions.

Would you kindly get in touch and email me when you're free?

Thank you so much!

Diary of a Singaorean Cabby said...

Hi, Raymond,

Thks for your comments.

You may ask me whatever you want through this blog.

James Lim

Anonymous said...

I can safely say getting in a cab in any neighbourhood is virtually impossible like tampines which is is like waiting for a solar ecplise. It is simply a crime that the taxi industry has done against the community.