Last night, at around 7pm, a PRC couple in their early thirties boarded my taxi at Mandarin Hotel in Orchard Road and wanted me to take them to Night Safari in Mandai Road. I hit the fare meter and instinctively knew from years of dealings with PRC tourists that dark clouds of trouble would soon be forming in the horizon. From my rear mirror, I spied the couple starring at my fare meter with disbelieve looks and mumbling with indignant expression on their faces. As anticipated, an angry voice soon pierced into my ear.
"Why your meter show two separate fares? the young man queried loudly in perfect American accent.
"Young man, you don't have to shout. I can explain thoroughly". I responded and wished I had not picked them earlier or I could kick them out of my cab instantly.
The various taxi surcharges in Singapore has given me a lots of trouble with tourists, as well as some locals till today. Explaining to those not familiar with our complex taxi surcharges is never a problem. I usually point to the stickers on the window specifying all the surcharges when they doubt my words and explanation. I also invite them to call a third party to verify my truthfulness. Sometime, I would halt my taxi and continue the trip only when they are fully satisfied and agreed to pay the surcharges.
I am not a pugnacious person but I get infuriated when some querulous customers used combative tone and is disrespectful when querying the metered fare they had to pay. Some, on rare occasion, simply refused to pay the surcharges at the end of the trip. Whichever the case, I usually bit the bullet and let them take advantage of an elderly driver. It is better to spend the time ferrying another passenger than waste it arguing with such scumbags or at police post writing statements of claim.
As a taxi driver, I find the various surcharges rather repugnant and confusing for commuters, though it helps to bring supply of taxis to demand at certain hours and places. Honestly, my earning had
improved recently because of the many increased surcharges. On the other hand, many commuters are understandably pissed off with having to pay surcharges on top of the metered fair, like paying extras for having warm water in a restaurant.
I fail to understand why our our million dollar transport minister, with his team of brilliant scholars at LTA, is still not able to solve the dilemma of surcharges?. After decades, they still say that taxi fares and surcharges are basically commercial decisions and therefore, Government do not intervene in commercial policies. To them, it's the easiest way out of a complicated situation.
I am aware that individual taxi operators set the fare for their fleet. However, if LTA, as a regulatory body can mandate the minimum 250km/ day rule to improve taxi availability by getting rid of taxi drivers who use the cab as a personal car, surely they can also mandate a restructure taxi fare rates in the same vein.
Now, has the current taxi surcharges outlived it's purposes? Is a simplified taxi fare structure possible and workable? Do I have a suggestion?
Yes, hear me out. It might sound absurd.
1. Remove the 25% surcharge for peak hours in the morning and evening and 50% for mid-night, together with the $3 CBD surcharge completely. Instead, factor all these complex surcharges into two simple flat rates - normal and after midnight rates. Our LTA scholars can easily do the mathematics and produce the new simplified flat rates. Comfort or other taxi operators will not do it and I will explain why later.
No CBD surcharge? The whole of Singapore is now CBD with the new rate! No fuming commuters at fringes of CBD. Drivers will still go to where the crowds are.
2. No taxi at airport, cruise terminals, EXPO and RWS?. Location and booking surcharges will remain.
3. Shangrila Hotel charges a higher room rate than Hotel 81. So, Chysler's taxi will have a higher flag down fare and the fare meter will run faster than a Toyota Crown taxi..
The fare meter will now show only a single fare, except when location and booking surcharge are applicable.
If a simple normal and after midnight rates is implemented, taxi commuting will inevitably become more expensive like many things in Singapore. It will also become a premium mode of transport for those who can afford it, like in Tokyo, London and New York. Fringe taxi commuters will be eliminated and demand for taxis will drops drastically. Taxi drivers who cannot take the heat will leave the kitchen. Eventually, an optimum level will arrive where demand for taxis will meet availability, without confusing surcharges.
I dread such a day, as I would probably end up as a security guard or kitchen dish washer and helps to alleviate the shortage of workers in these industries. However, such a day will never come. Why?. Because, Comfort's garages will be parked with thousands of redundant taxis when drivers leave them due to falling taxi commuters, resulting from my restructured meter fares! So, Comfort will never let that unthinkable situation of idling assets parking at garages to happen and therefore, will not change the status quo. Instead, they would try to muster as large a fleet of taxis as they can to popup their bottom line, with scant regards to taxi drivers survival. This is where and when LTA should step in to mandate them to set a simple, fair and sustainable taxi rates without drastic impacts or trade-offs for all stakeholders. I think LTA will continue to say that setting taxi rates is not their business. So, we are back to square one! sigh!!!.
Some people has the wrong assumption that taxis are essential public transport services like buses and trains. But they are not. Taxi companies are essentially private business enterprises and taxi drivers are self-employed workers, both without Government subsidies, though they operate under LTA regulations. It may be good to re-examine some old assumptions and make wide ranging changes. At the heart of every change, there will always be trade-offs and impacts. Most importantly, trade-offs and impact must be sensible and sustainable.
Now, coming back to the PRC couple. They paid the full fare at destination after my thorough explanation.
My Dear Reader,
If you have a suggestion like what I tried to do, please pen your valued suggestions or comments here. However, please don't be abusive or offensive to anyone. Thank You.
This is Mr. Lui Tuck Yew, Minister of Transport. (Link) and his tall trees and mushroom story.