Sunday 25 November 2012

LTA's half-baked policies on Taxi Availability.

Again, LTA has come out with some half-baked policies to address taxi commuters perennial complaints over the availability of taxis. They had forgotten their ill-conceived and almost discarded policy of "taxis allow to pick and drop passengers ONLY at taxi stands inside CBD" and "Share-A-Cab Scheme".

Now, they arbitrarily mandated that from January next year, all taxi operators must ensure that 70% of their drivers are on the roads during peak hours and taxi drivers must log in a minimum of 250km per day and progressively to 85% within 3 years or their fleet will stagnated.

But, will this new taxi rules boost taxi availability?

I don't think so.



Firstly, to taxi drivers who depend on their "money-making" machine for a livelihood, clocking 250km per day is "chicken feed". A driver needs only 3 hrs speeding at 80kmh to clock 240km. (albeit cruising empty at expressways).

Presently, most night shift taxi drivers doing a 10hrs shift are logging in at least 250km/shift and the day shift drivers too are logging in similar mileage. In total, a taxi with 2 drivers would easily does 500km/day or more.

All big taxi operators can testify that a vast majority of their drivers already surpassed the mandated 250kg/day standard. So, why get a child to take PSLE when he already got his "O" level?.

Secondly, all cab companies have no direct incentives to press for more mileages on their taxis, as doing so would increase their maintenance costs and bottom line. They are more interested to collect rental from cabbies with as big a fleet as they can muster and at minimum usage.

Thirdly, an extra 900 more cabs out of 28,000 (3.2%) on the road resulting from the new rule is like a drop in an ocean. Only the uninitiated public will be hook winked to believe it will increase taxi availability. Maybe, the minute minority of drivers who use their taxis for personal transport might have to change their driving schedules.

Finally, the new rule 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.

LTA....wake up!. You've got your act wrong again!

Now, what measures do I think will increase taxi availability? Please allow me, an ordinary old taxi driver, to present my humble suggestions based on my seven years of observation and taxi driving experiences. I stand to be corrected and I welcome your comments.

Upfront, I wish to say that instead of punishing cabbies with disincentives if they don't meet quota, cabbies should be incentivised to pick fares as and when they appear. Cabbies will naturally drive when and to places where the yield is highest i.e. when and where surcharges applies. They also look forward to cab booking.

I think so long as this status-quo remains, it will be hard for taxi availability to improve meaningfully, as the majority of taxi drivers are into this trade for the money. It's perfectly natural and sensible.

Demand for taxis is never even throughout the day or places. There will always be peak demand at certain hours and places. I guess everyone is aware of this fact. If so, then the "treatment" should be targeted at the localized "tumor", not mandating radiation therapy for the whole body.

If the intent of the new rule is to eliminate "personal-use" taxi drivers, then its effective to a certain extent. But, the new rule will not put significantly more taxis on the roads at the right place and at the right time. Traffic congestion during peak hours also contribute to scarcity of taxis and longer waiting time.

From my experience, before the implementation of the longer evening peak hours surcharges from 6pm to 12 midnight (instead of 5pm to 8pm) a year ago, many taxis commuters in the CBD had difficulties in getting a cab. Now, getting a cab in the CBD is much easier because more cabs are attracted to this area due to the extended hours of $3 surcharge. Therefore, taxi availability in CBD had improved significantly. So, pricing mechanism did help to bring supply to meet demand.

But, there are still plentiful of complaints of non-availability of cabs at some areas. If I'm not wrong, these complaints are mainly from commuters at the fringes of CBD, where surcharge is not applicable. I'm sure LTA knows this fact.

As I said earlier, cabbies are naturally attracted to pick fares at areas with surcharges and commuters at fringes of CBD, like Orchard Towers, HarbourFront, Havelock, Little India, Beach Road..etc...etc...are avoided, although its illegal to do so. LTA enforcements to nap errant cabbies are not very effective.

An immediate solution to this perennial problem is to expand the radius of the CBD to include these hotspots that has lots of complaining commuters. Many hotels, shopping malls and tourists attractions are in the fringes of CBD.  Physical relocation of ERP gantries is cost prohibitive but with modern technology, the GPS system in taxis can be tweeted to apply the surcharge for these additional hotspots. Similarly, the many hotspots during the day, especially during the morning peak hours in housing estates can be included.     

Another solution to improve taxi availability is to allow a real time bidding for taxis, where the highest bidder gets the ride. Mr. Tan Kim Lian (ex-presidential candidate) had such a system in hand (Here).

A more drastic solution is to remove all surcharges and implement a pricey three separate fare structure for peak, non-peak and midnight period across the island.

For example: For Non-peak hour : S1.50 per kilometer,
                      For Peak Hour: $2.00 per kilometer,
                      Midnight: $3 per kilometer.

Flag-down prices remain unchanged. Over time, demand for cab will fall drastically and taxi population will drop too, resulting in less pollution and traffic congestion on all roads.

Freelancing taxi drivers and "fringes" commuters will be eliminated. Taxi commuting will become a premium mode of transport for those who can afford it or are willing to pay for it, like in New York, London or Tokyo.

Redundant taxi drivers can become bus drivers to mitigate various problems from PRC bus drivers and commuters can help themselves to the much cheaper and efficient bus and MRT services.

Honestly, I hope such a day will not come. So far, nobody has come out with any satisfactory solutions to solve the taxi availability dilemma, as the trade-off are difficult ones.

Now, in fairness to LTA, they had also done a few good things for taxi drivers like:

1. Allow taxis to pick & drop passengers at more places inside CBD

2.  An online portal will be set up next year to match hirer with relief drivers.

3. A $20 discount on vocational licence renewal fee.

4. ????????????????????????????????????????????????

For the benefits of both the taxi drivers and commuters alike, I hope LTA could relax the following stone cast rules.

1. Waive all ERP charges for taxis.

2. Allow taxis to travel, pick and drop passengers in all bus lanes outside CBD areas.

3. Match-make regular taxi commuters with drivers at LTA's online portal.

I know I'm hoping for miracles to happen.


Anonymous said...

Because of cab drivers like you, cab commuters have been paying double to triple cab fares with all the rubbish surcharges. There are people who NEED to take cabs like those with little kids, elderly, handicapped, etc. I say kill all suecharges once and for all. If any cabby wishes to pick destinations and fares, then his cab license will be terminated with immediate effect and he will be barred from dricing a cab for the next 1 year. Very soon, there can availability everywhere on Singapore without the need for this surcharge and that surcharge. Mister, if you are not happy driving a cab now, please change your job. You can always drive the bus or MRT.

Anonymous said...

The previous comment is utter nonsense. I agree with most said in the blog post. Taxi fares are still relatively low in Singapore and of course taxi drivers will/have to fish for the passengers that pay higher fees. While I think it is fair enough for commuters to complain about not being able to get a taxi in fringe areas, the culprit to blame should not be the taxi driver. I work at beach road (100 m away from the CBD gantry) an am very affected by taxi drivers avoiding me. But that's life. If I were behind the steering wheel, I would not pickup myself either with somebody paying more for the same ride just 200 meters away

Gintai_昇泰 said...

Don't forget that LTA is "Langgar Tiang Authority!" Lol!

Diary of a Singaorean Cabby said...

Hi, Gintai,

Nice to hear from you again!. Hope you're having a good time away from your blog. Cheers & Langgar!!!

Anonymous said...

I think the current pricing policy for taxis, e.g. various CDB,peak hour, booking surcharges are actually the "source" of problems in taxi supply, i.e. creating artificial "shortages" in taxi availability in certain areas and at specific times of day. To solve the issue of taxis avoiding the CBD, the Government should waive all ERP charges for taxis. To solve the issue of some taxis "hiding" just before the peak hour surcharges, only to appear in droves when the charges start, the Government should remove all peak hour surcharges. Without peak hour surcharges, taxi drivers will be "incentivised" to pick up passengers at all times to maximise their daily earnings. To solve the issue of some taxis not picking up passengers but just waiting for call bookings, the Government should remove all call/advance booking surcharges; why should the customer have to bear additional charges when he/she is saving the taxi driver time and fuel that would have otherwise been incurred driving around looking for passengers? To avoid abuses, if the customer calls for a cab and then "disappears", his/her number will be blacklisted for 3 months. Without such call/advance booking charges, taxi drivers will be "incentivised" to pick up passengers everywhere to maximise their daily earnings. To help their taxi drivers, cab companies should lower their rentals/profits. Fares should be adjusted to ensure that taxi drivers will have sufficient income; however, taxi fares must still be affordable to encourage commuters to use taxis rather than private cars. This is especially important when it is the Government's policy is to control the growth in population of private cars and to discourage their use (to better manage our levels or road traffic congestion). By removing these surcharges that distort the market, I believe the demand and supply for taxis will reach an eventual equilibrium that will provide both commuters with a viable transport alternative to private cars and taxi drivers with a viable means of income and livelihood.

Anonymous said...

Where I live (near amk), I can call multiple cab companies and not get a cab during rush hours. The entire issue is not about cabs alone and is also compounded by our road congestion; they spend more time getting stuck in congested areas. Therefore, fewer cabs are available.

However, I have heard drivers who pick when and where they drive. Some avoid peak hours because of congestion, some avoid the rain because traffic is slow moving, some hang around surcharge areas only.

Frankly, I do not agree with the incentives approach any more. Obviously, the existing incentives have shown to be inadequate. With the current measures, there are more peak hours than off peak hours in a day. Why rush out at the peak of rush hour?

Perhaps it's time to examine if certain bus lanes can be expanded to include taxis. Perhaps when taxis can pick and drop passengers faster, more prospective passengers like me can benefit and get a cab within 10 minutes of calling. It's not always about the money.

Anonymous said...

The problem seems to be prevalent during the peak of the peak hours, such as around 7:30-9am. Rather than increase regulation of taxis across the board, measures should be focused on the real problem, which is the lack of taxis during part of the peak periods.

If taxi services could be de-regulated during those windows, such that private cars are allowed to operate as taxis, do commercial car pooling and such, it would take care of the problem without adversely affecting the rice bowls of taxi drivers while also addressing excessive demand.

I don't think surcharges work indefinitely. They simply push supply from one place to another, which could exacerbate problems by causing shortages in other areas.

Anonymous said...

The intent of the policy is not to get existing cab drivers to get more. It is to discourage cabs being used as personal vehicles by people who find this cheaper than renting/buying a car. The breakeven point where this becomes economically viable is not that far away given current COE prices.

Anonymous said...

Taxi drivers are businessman and they should be allowed to decide how they want to operate their business. If LTA wants to control how the taxi drivers should do, then they should mandate that taxi companies employ taxi drivers as employees and pay them a salary, benefits and annual leave.

If this goes through, then next, they will stipulate that hawkers must open their stall for 12 hours daily so that consumers will have their favorite food when they want it.

Next are they going to tell other businessman that they need to visit India 10 times a year just because Singapore sign a FTA with India.

When will ERP at your door step be implemented?

Anonymous said...

There is no incentive for taxi companies to do anything LTA introduces. Income for them is the rental cab drivers pay. Passengers have no relationship with the companies. If passengers can bid for a cab when they book a cab, I am sure the call be taken.

Anonymous said...

Taxi drivers are NOT employees to the taxi companies. They are their own boss and they do watever timing they wants. But the main policy is still to svcs the public who are taking taxis. How often in a week or how many hrs in a day is the taxis not sufficient? just 1 hr in the mrng and max 2 hrs in the evening, wat abt the other hrs that taxis have to cruise ard looking for passengers and there are lesser demand? If u think u NEED a cab PAY for it man.. we are not providing free rides!! If u cant pay for a premium as said by the blogger.. TAKE A BUS or MRT!! Mister....Yr boss tell u to work overtime without pay, WILL you???

We still will be driving taxi as we do love the flexibility of this job. I start my shift whenever I like and ENDS when I want!! I have my OFF day ANY day of the week, month, year!! Its my freedom and I am not bond to any desk from 8-5!!!

Lee Kum Kee said...

Using a cab cannot be a luxury for sinkees. Your proposal of increasing fares to levels like that in other world class cities is not tenable in sinkapore because car ownership is out of reach for the majority of sinkees. If sinkees have to pay world-class cab fare as well, the subway and bus will be their only viable mode of transportation. And many cab drivers will have to quit due to lack of demand.

Anonymous said...

Everytime the regulations are changed, new problems will arise. Looks like they are coming out with adhoc solutions trying to solve the never ending complaints.

With so many surcharges in place, of course the taxi driver will choose & pick one that will maximise his income.

Why can't they make the fare structure as simple as possible so that taxi drivers have no incentive to discriminate against commuters ? Otherwise the problems will simply never get resolved.

Diary of a Singaorean Cabby said...

Hi, Everyone...

First of all, thanks to everyone who had taken the trouble and time to comment on my post and I certainly should at least acknowledge it. Yes..thank you.

As the majority used "Anonymous", I shall use the specific date & timing of each comment to give my point of view in reply. Also, I shall break my responses in two parts for easy reading.

Part 1.

Anon.. 26Nov. 10.24
Sad to say, your comments are "utter nonsenses" though not
---commuters had to pay double/triple cab fares because of taxi drivers like me....Half correct. Taxi companies determine the fare, not taxi drivers.
---Terminate taxi vocational license if drivers cherry pick....Yes, drivers do get demerit points if they commit such offenses.
---Drive the bus or MRT....yes, if they pay me a reasonable salary.

Anon.. 26Now 10.54
Taxi fares relatively low in S'pore....Yes, compared to other big cities but it should be affordable for majority, if possible. Drivers should also be able to earn a national median wage of about $2,900 like full time employed residents.

Anon..26Nov 11.39
Artificial "shortage" of taxis because of surcharges.....Not true.
Shortages of taxis are due to many other factors like traffic congestions, high demand during peak hours, stomy weather. Basically, surcharges are imposed to bring supply to where the demands are. If surcharges are removed, another fix-all solution must be put in place.

Anon..26Now 12.42
Why go out at the pick of rush hour, expand/allow taxi to use bus lanes.....excellent suggestion and comment....Totaly agreed.

Next page....

Diary of a Singaorean Cabby said...


Part 2

Anon..26Now. 14.12
Allow private cars to double as taxis during peak hours...Not likely to happen here. It's like going back to the 60's where pirate taxis flourished with untold social problems.

Anon..26Nov. 16.21
The intent of the policy is to discourage taxis being used as personal vehicles...Yes, correct to some extent.

Anon.. 26Nov 16.21
Taxi drivers are businessmen and should be treated as such.....Best comment of the lots. Couldn't agree with you more. I think you're a well educated businessman,too. Good Luck!

Anon..26Nov 19.25
Bid for a cab when they book a cab...Looks like you're Tan Kim Lian..No pun intended.

Anon..26Nov 21.04
Hi, Buddy. I like the way you voice out your opinion. Yes, your boss tell you to work overtime without pay, Will You?. It's my freedom and I'm not bond to any desk from 8 to 5.

Lee Kum Kee..26Nov 22.05
Using a cab cannot be for sunkees...correct. pay if you want premium service or take the subway or bus.

Anon..27Nov 10.28
Looks like they (LTA)are coming out with adhoc solutions to solve the never ending complaints...Absolutely correct. Agreed..Hooray!!!!

Anonymous said...

just take photo/video of taxi refusing to pick u up and send to LTA!

LTA, wake up and do your job!

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Anonymous said...

Good suggestion but please don't be so naive. If so simple like what you mentioned then this problems will not be surfacing . You are asking for the impossible to happen. Lol

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Anonymous said...

Give taxi drivers a break. There are already the lowest life form constantly bombarded by unreasonable passengers to vent out on bad day.

Anonymous said...

Don't be Fooled by this load of "ka ki lang" talking swayin the e z way to sway a simple mind. Why some offspring r with cancer lukimia n some prolong terminal sickness... becos the satan mind leads the devil to the lowst pits at the pay back time. sky got eyes.....

Unknown said...

Seriously, I do not believe the fact with the incentive giving strategy any more. Obviously, the present rewards have proven to be insufficient. With the current exercises, there are more peak time than off peak time in a day. Why hurry out at the optimum of rush hour? by to or from

JP said...

Dear James Lim,
Thanks for let us know the real concerns and Pro & cons of new rule. Appreciated your support to server better to Singapore commuters, as I feel you have very good domain knowledge Taxi Industry. will you able to share the best practices or plans to make sure taxi availability during Peak hours/ Rainy session. I am use very frequently on Taxi service. most of time, I need to user Taxi app from my smartphone to book taxi. which cost me 10 -20% higher cost. but as a common man who may not afford every time pay extra 20% amount for taxi. can LTA & Singaporean can think together for better taxi usage experience & customer satisfaction with WIN - WIN mode.

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