Tuesday 9 April 2013

Taxi Business in Singapore

Last Friday, around 10pm, I picked an interesting New Zealander at Changi Airport. After loading his single haversack into the trunk of my taxi, we set off to his hostel at Thomson Road, with him seated at my side. He seems like a friendly chap with a constant smile on his face and being a chatty cabby myself, we began an interesting conversation on the journey.

He told me that he purposely came over to Singapore for a week of holiday after his business seminar in Australia. He felt extremely safe here, not like other South East Asian countries or the United States. He further revealed that whenever he takes taxis in New York, there is a 95% chance that the cabby is a new immigrant, who hardly speaks English but it's a reverse here. Life is easy for N.Y. cabbies, he said, as they do not have to ply the streets for 6-8 hours a day and most of the time they sit around waiting for a call booking. Then, without his asking, I began to ran a brief commentary of the reality of taxi business and life of a cabby here for his understanding.

I told him that all taxi drivers here are Singaporeans, as taxi vocational license is be given to Singapore citizen only. I don't know of any other jobs here that has this requirement, where foreigners are not allowed to take up this vocation. Even in strategically important agencies like Temasek Holding, which is responsible for investing billion of dollars of public money, it does not require Singapore citizenship for their Number 1 position. Therefore, either taxi driving is the most privileged job in Singapore or it's the last resort for redundant Singaporean workers. Of course, the former is not true.

I think the over 100,000 Singaporean with vocational taxi license, are all eligible voters. This large number of voters together with their family members, are politically important to the incumbent government and cannot be taken lightly. To lose the astronomical number of cabbies votes is suicidal and therefore, they must be pampered and their vocation protected at all costs, not like some profession with small numbers. Ironically, most cabbies never have good words for the PAP. I'm sure their votes are likewise.   

On the ground and in reality, driving a taxi in Singapore is usually the last resort when a person can't find another suitable job because of old age or after retrenchment. It's not a glamorous or ultra lucrative job. More than half the earnings of a taxi driver goes to the taxi companies as rental and fuel. A taxi driver do not enjoy things like paid annual leave or holidays. Apart from this setback, this is the only job I know where you had to pay for not working.

A typical taxi driver, drives for 10 hours a day and earns about $12 an hour. There is no medical benefits, no CPF and no pension.....Yet you can find plenty of taxi drivers here with a diploma or university education. The taxi companies do all they can to get every taxi rented out to drivers, regardless of the demand on the street. As long as rentals are collected promptly, they do not care how the drivers survive. Can you blame them? No. All companies operate to seek maximum profit, just like the way the PAP runs this place - ("PAP familiar slogon -Where the Money Comes From?"). So every year, SMRT and COMFORT report double digit earnings growth, just like the PAP with impressive GNP.

Now, my point is, Singaporeans are lucky to have some well educated cabbies. Presently, the minimum academic qualification to become a taxi driver here is a Cambridge University "O" level certificate as advertised by Comfort. In many countries, educated citizens are employed as "professionals" in various organizations. But in Singapore, PAP helps all companies with supply of plentiful cheap foreign talents to help fill those "professional" positions, so educated Singaporeans can be freed up to work as cabbies.

In the early seventies, it was usually the illiterate or jobless desperado who drives taxis. But nowadays, more educated and younger Singaporean are becoming cabbies, ladies included. The large influx of foreign talents had taken many jobs which otherwise educated Singaporean can do and surely not because a joker says that a cabby earns $7k a month. I think many jobs in the IT industries, banking & financial sectors, nursing, sales & marketing, just to name a few, are filled by cheap FT, leaving educated Singaporean with few career choices but to consider taxi driving as a viable career. This is really pathetic for Singaporean for many obvious reasons but on the other hand, it's better to be a cabby than jobless, though one has a diploma in hand, right?.

If you visit the National Museum, there is a video of a very young Lee Kuan Yew speaking to a large crowd at a rally in the 1960s. Half way through the speech, he pointed to a young boy in the audience and said "Look at this young boy, he needs an education ...otherwise he will grow up to be a taxi driver". Ironically, today we have highly educated taxi drivers forced to drive taxis due to structural unemployment as PMETs are pushed out of professional jobs by the large influx of foreigners.

Consequently, Singapore is now a First World country with the unique distinction of having a large contingent of educated taxi drivers with at least a secondary school or diploma education. Our Best Airport in the world is now served by an army of most educated taxi drivers in the world. Perhaps this is an achievement that PAP should glorify and boast to the rest of the world too.

At the end of my conversation with my NZ passenger, I nevertheless, expressed my gratitude to this Government for protecting my vocation by not allowing foreigners to drive cabs or else I would probably be collecting cardboard boxes or drinks cans to buy my two meals in this 6th most expensive country in the world. A lot people in their late 50s or early 60s are not quite ready for retirement yet, many find difficulty in getting employment with a reasonable pay because sadly, even simple jobs like cleaners, security guards and traffic warrants are sourced to cheaper foreigners.….So, what suitable jobs are left for old, retrenched and educated Singaporean, like myself? Tell that to your MP and you'll probably get a motherboard and template answers!.

My passenger was impressed with my commentary and allowed me to have a photo shot of him for this posting. Unfortunately, he left without a tip for me except my sour throat.
      NS for Singaporean - Jobs & Scholarships For Foreigners


Anonymous said...

Always an interesting writing from you James! For sure no one can't deny that SG is having the world most literate and over educated cabbies on the road. At the same time, seeing more and more young ladies cabbies in their 30s plying hi-end cabs. That is so uniquely Singapore.

Fellow Cabby

theonion said...

For nursing, there are not enough nurses and not everyone is willing to be a nurse as you have to be very mentally strong dealing with people and helping them.

There are also many training courses for mid level nurses but not all stay on due to the shift work nature as well as stress of dealing not only with the sick patients but also their overanxious relatives, friends or family.

For all the other sectors which you mentioned, yes, fair enough comment.

But you forget the same media which allows the disruptive narrative also allows for disruptive work practices where such things as call centres come into play.

Anonymous said...

They wouldn't give a hoot whether these 100,000 taxi drivers plus all the Isabel minorities vote against them. They just need 50.1% to retain more than 3/4 of parliament.
But on a serious note, I am a green person and I think no matter how environmentally friendly the vehicle is, it's still faluting the air when the taxi is prowling for passengers. With technology these days, taxis should be parked and wait for calls with routines worked out almost instantly. More productive and probably need less drivers on the road. And make it more costly and drivers are employed, not self employed.

Anonymous said...

Hi James, you are absolutely right in your observations.
As I had shared with my experience in the TDVL course which is ridicurously demanding and amazingly low passing rate, most of my course mates are PMETs.The one sitting next to me was a structural engineer with a Polytechnics diploma in his late fifties. As I was mingling around chatting with the others, most of them speak fluent English with gramatically correct English and a good grasps of vocabulary. It is indeed Uniquely Singapore! By the way, I am starting to ply the road tomorrow to kick-start my life as a cabbie. Keep on writing and enjoy!

Anonymous said...

It is amazing how many of these super well educated taxi drivers drive like retards. May be they just want to crash and die.

deneiza said...

It is really not easy being a taxi driver, to even just pass the taxi driver exam (which is only administered in English nowadays according to my friend) is quite difficult and he wonders if this discriminates against applicants who aren't so good at English, hence reducing their chances of passing and thereafter have to look for another vocation.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, a matter of fact, I was driven by a non Singaporean and he has to use a gps. And he has to made me find the Postal code just so he could bring me to the right place..

Anonymous said...

Hello James,

My older brother is a cabbie too, and I hope to have a good conversation with him when I get home in May (I reside in the US now). I found your blog by chance and am enjoying it already. Thank you for being an articulate representative of your profession. FYI, I am another 'highly qualified' 'manual worker'. Luckily, I get paid pretty decently here. I will share more thoughts with you in time.

Unknown said...

Check out my latest article "More than half of Singaporeans want to migrate" in SG Web Reviews (www.sgwebreviews.blogspot.sg)

Edmund Lim said...

Hi James,

Good to hear that you have taken a well-deserved holiday break recently.

I agree with you that taxi-driving is a "hazardous" job in several aspects.

You have to worry about being "mugged" at night especially if you are on night shift. As shown in some past incidents, besides $$$, life is also at stake in such situations.

You have to worry about picking up "dead" drunks and get stuck while your taxi rental charges is ticking. Worst still if you have several mouths to feed back home, school fees to pay for your children, bills to settle, health problems to remedy, housing mortgage to service .....

The list of "hazards" goes on but worst of all, sitting in such a confine position is a serious risk to health. People who flies around sometimes develop blood vessel problems after sitting for long hours ( 10 to 14 hours ). This is about equivalent to taking a trip to Europe from Singapore.

Driving taxi 10 to 14 hours a day is not unlike sitting on a plane to Europe. Imagine every taxi driver is like doing a round trip to Europe every 2 days sitting in such confine position with just a few hours of sleep and rest in between. Worst still, taxi drivers are not travelling passengers who can close their eyes to sleep or rest. They are at the wheels!

I encourage all taxi drivers to at least do some walking or brisk walking everyday for at least 30 mins a day. Better still if they can squeeze in some good stretching workout in between their driving shifts.

Good luck.

asingaporeanson said...

Excellent post sir. I coined an acronym to commemorate my friend Gintai and used it often in my posts. That's the "Big 4" industry for Singaporeans these days, Security guard, Mc Donald's, Recycler, Taxi drivers (SMRT)

We were told to get educated and so we did but the promised land is nowhere in sight.

Gintai_昇泰 said...

Lol! Really langgar dah! Lucky still got jobs for citizens albeit langgar jobs. Imagine if langgar jobs also don't have, what will happen? There will be social unrest and even uprising!

Anonymous said...
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Unknown said...

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