Tuesday 16 October 2012

Why no cabs when I need one ?

A young Chinese couple was standing at the corner of Shaw House in Beach Road, waving desperately. I pulled over. They hurried towards my taxi and got in, heaving heavily.

"What is wrong with you cab driving people? Why nobody ever stop for us?"

"I stopped."

"Yeah. Thank you."

They were very chatty. I was chatty back. They appeared educated like teachers, reporters or media guys and I was prepared for a torrid interview. And here, I would like to share one of the many topics we chatted.

"Jurong, please", was the guy first command.

"It's long way to my home, too" was my friendly reply.

"Really, that's a nice coincidence" the young lady joined in.

"Why, despite having one of the highest number of cabs per 1,000 residents among developed cities, it seems so difficult to get a cab at this hour of the evening and especially during a downpour" the lady continued without a pause, like a lecturer.

"Well, this subject had already been covered extensively in the local press. You should know better" I shot back.

"But, I would like to hear your comments, close up", she appealed enthusiastically.

"Really, my views will sound repetitious", I shot back again.

"Never mind, say it" she insisted.

"Ok, Singapore has about 5.2 cabs per 1,000 residents, compared to 3.3 in London, 2.6 in Hongkong, and 1.5 in New York. The cab population had ballooned to 27,000 from 17,000 a decade back. An increased of almost 37% but ridership had gone up by merely 16%.

"If there are more cabs available than commuters, why Singapore is still the hardest place for someone to get a cab at certain time". the lady interrupted.

"Well, I think cab companies have no direct incentives to improve taxi availabilities. They are only interested to collect rental from cabbies with as big a fleet as they can muster. 

"Driving a cab is not a career choice for most people, as there is nothing in it for the future. 

For most drivers, its often the last resort. About a third of cabbies today are folks like retirees, retrenched workers, or small business owners. Some of these people ply the streets just long enough to cover their daily rental and use the cabs as their personal transport for the rest of the day. 

But for the majority, driving a cab is their only livelihood. This group of drivers should be motivated to spent more time on the road.

"Cabbies will naturally drive when the yield is highest. Thus they drive when and where surcharges apply. They will also wait for booking. Mind you, they are not salaried transport workers. So, as long as this status-qua remain, it will be hard for taxi availability to improve meaningfully. 

"The government could mandate a minimum mileage a cabby has to clock a day. But this will mean more vehicles on the road with a corresponding environmental cost, but with no guarantee that the extra mileage will be occupied mileage. Cabby can always cruise empty. 

"I think taxi driving has to be made more attractive as a career choice and taking a cab is an extremely expensive mode of commuting. Cabbies need to be incentivised to to pick more fares as and when they appear, rather than face disincentives if they don't meet the quota. And make taking a cab like burning a hole in your pocket. A complete rethink is probably the thing to do along this line of thought"

"What you had said sounds familiar like in the press"

"Yes, you're right. It's a reprint" 

"Recently, many fare cheats and cabbies assaults were reported in the press. What's your take on these?' the young lady asked.

"Let me have a sip of water to recover my voice and I'll speak on it later". I concluded.

P/S. I had an earlier post on this subject at (Link)http://cabby65.blogspot.sg/2012/03/yesterday-obsequious-straits-time.html#links


Anonymous said...

If you pick the couple up at Beach Road, it should be Shaw Towers not Shaw House which is on Orchard Road.

Diary of a Singaorean Cabby said...

Hi, Anon,

Yes, you're right. It should be Shaw Tower, not Shaw House. I made a mistake just like I sometime did while sending passengers to wrong destination when the name is almost similar. It reminds me that I had to be extra careful when as a situation occur while on the job. Thks.

Anonymous said...

Do you think raising fares overall but getting rid of all the surcharges will help, including those for call booking?

Diary of a Singaorean Cabby said...

HI, Anon,

That's a good question. I think removing all surcharges with compensating fare hikes will only make taxi fare less confusing but might not make improve taxi availability, which is the crux of the problem in Singapore. Call booking with an incentive is necessary to bring supply to meet demand.

I'm not an economist nor a "smart guy". From an ordinary taxi driver point of view, I think the "supply & demand" theory might help.

To increase taxi availability to those who can afford it, demand must be reduced and supply increased through pricing mechanism. Eventually, an optimum level will arrive when fringe players ( taxi commuters & drivers) are removed from the field.

So, Anon, you're right after all.

From Abidjan said...

Hi, someone posted your blog on Facebook and I came in to have a look. To be honest, I was surprised by your command of the English Language. It is pretty hard to get a taxi uncle to speak proper English, however your posts showed that you are quite educated! Keep it up bro! Your blog is Bookmark-ed in my browser already!

Diary of a Singaorean Cabby said...

Hi, Eric,

Thanks for your nice compliments. Anyone can write good English if they really have an interest in it and is willing to spend time to improve on it. You too!!. Bye....

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