A few days ago, the G mouthpiece, "ST" reported on its front page that Mr. Yeo Teck Guan, LTA group director for public transport, proudly proclaimed that his ministry's arbitrary measures has proved successful in improving taxi supply in Singapore. Mr. Yeo, are you sure or not?
Here's a quick recap of LTA's measures implemented about a year ago.
1. From January 2014, 80 per cents of taxi operator fleet, up from 70 per cent, is required to be on the road during peak hours.
2. Similarly, each taxi must clock at least 250km per day.
3. Any taxi operator failing to meet the above standard would not be allowed to expand their fleet and a financial penalty of $5.50 per cab or up to $100,000 will be imposed if a operator fails to meet the standard in two consecutive months from January.
Not surprisingly. Government Link Companies, like Comfort, CityCab and SMRT, passed with flying colour. Between them, they will add a total of 400 new taxis to the 27,500 already on the road next year. Other non-GLC taxi operators failed the standard miserably. One of them, SMART had been eliminated from the taxi industry.
Our Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew was quick to urge taxi companies hit with a fine to "not pass down the penalties they incur to the drivers". Apparently, Mr Lui has the interest of taxi drivers at heart and ST, as usual, promptly highlighted his deep concern of taxi drivers welfare for the general public to appreciate.
Now, let me bluntly go straight to the point. No matter what measures or standards LTA implements, taking a taxi in Singapore during peak hours or rainy days will continue to remain like a cancerous pain in the neck and complaints of difficulties in getting a cab will NEVER diminish. This is simply because Singaporean taxi commuters are generally an impatient lot who likes to be served quickly as and when they need a cab. And complaining in writing on all sorts of matters to all G bodies or MSM is a national pastime for many people here. It's one of our culture.
In my opinion, LTA's measures are merely painkillers to make the pain more bearable. It will not destroy the malignant tumor unless the most drastic measure is taken, like the cancerous neck is chopped off...aka removing taxi transportation all together. Of course, this measure is unthinkable. Pardon me for my satire suggestion. I'm sick and tired of LTA narcissistic self appraisals and banality in their measures. They are simply unable to separate the wheat from the chaff. Hopefully, the latter part of my post will justify my disparage of LTA.
As a taxi driver, I would like to share with you some of my alternative painkiller which I hope would further ease the pain of my passengers and hopefully those in higher authority would approve it and add them to their standard prescription. Like LTA measures, mine is also a painkiller not a cure.
One of my medication is to eliminate smart taxi drivers who play "games" to maximize their income. I think mercilessly penalizing those taxi drivers who play games illegally during peak hours and high demand is more effective than adding more taxis on the road. What's the use of adding more taxis on the road when these taxi drivers are "cheery-picking" or not picking up passengers when they should. Inevitably, these errant cabbies are compounding the problem of non-taxi availability and fueling the fury fire of complaints.
I have three types of painkiller.
Firstly, the "Change Shift" tablet. I believe this has happened to you many times when you hail a taxi in the CBD during peak hours at 8pm. With his roof-top sign showing "Change Shift", he winds down his window, stops besides you and asks "where are you going". When you say "Woodlands", he speeds off without a word. You're lucky if he replied "Change shift, Queensway".
Right now, it's NOT illegal for cabbies to reject passengers when the "Change Shift" sign is displayed. In the above scenario, the rule is broken only when the "Change Shift" is not displayed. The difference is subtle but important – if a driver states by displaying the "Change Shift" sign which way he or she is headed for the cab’s handover, it maintains an appearance of propriety. Many smart taxi drivers use this subtle difference as a loophole to ‘cherry-pick’ their passengers with destinations of within 5 km radius of the CBD during peak hours to maximize their income with quick turnaround and therefore more $3 surcharge collections. This illicit practice is becoming rampant here and it's basically pure creed. An empty return trip from Woodland to CDB would mean a lost in revenue, time and fuel of at least $20 for the cabby.
A vast majority of cabbies actually change shift between 4pm to 6pm and again between 4am to 6am. Therefore, to avoid victimizing the rule-abiding cabby and also to curb the blatant abuse of the "Change Shift" sign, LTA should restricts the use of this sign for these specific periods only or eliminate the use of "Change Shift" sign entirely. This "Change Shift" light is a relic of bygone days. The only purpose it serves today is to confuse the passenger. Taxi roof lights should be simple. If it’s on (TAXI), it means you can flag the cab down. If it’s off (BUSY), it’s unavailable. People hailing cabs don’t care about the particulars of the lighting system. The passenger only cares if the cab is available or not. I say "get rid of the "Change Shift" sign entirely.
More importantly, commuters should be encourage to report those errant taxi drivers who abuse this privilege to LTA directly, not taxi operators. If you believe a cab driver who turns you down was not actually changing shift as he did not display the "Change Shift" sign, note down the taxi plate number, call LTA and file a complaint instantly. LTA should beefed up its staff to handle such complaints round the clock. Those who file the complaint can testify by phone (1800-225-5582)– a process that can take less than 5 to 10 minutes.
Taxi drivers are not allowed to refuse to convey passengers without valid reasons and the penalty, if caught, is $300 fine and six demerit points under the Vocational Licence Points System. The licence will be revoked if he accumulates 21 or more demerit points within 24 months. Undoubtedly, with my fierce advocate of reporting errant taxi drivers to LTA, I am placing my "buddies" under the bus for running over. Sad to say, I get highly incensed when I had to send the rejected passenger to Woodland instead of the smart driver ahead of me at a taxi stand or elsewhere. I feel the right thing for taxi driver to do is to drive straight to handover location without stopping to ask "where are you going" when change shift is sign displayed, UNLESS the unknowing passengers flag for you.
My second painkiller tablet is for commuters at the fringe of CBD.
ERP gantries are placed around the CBD (Central Business District), major expressways and heavily used roads. If a commuter takes a cab inside the CBD during peak hours from 5pm to midnight on every day of the week, he or she has to pay a surcharge of $3.
Most cabbies are naturally seduced by this surcharge and converge into CBD like bees to honey. All ranks inside the CBD, like Lucky Plaza and Suntec are lined with many taxis but with few customers. On the other hand, around the fringes of CBD like Far East Plaza, Orchard Tower, Vivo City, Mustafa Mall, etc, the ranks are empty without taxis but with many angry customers. This is clearly a mismatch of supply and demand. Perhaps, LTA should designate some "popular fringes CBD taxi stands" with a location surcharge of $2 like the Singapore Expo Center in Changi. I think it's worth paying an extra $2 than endure a frustrating half an hour wait at taxi ranks.
My third third and final painkiller is literally a "killer".
With an impending increase in our population from 5.4 million to 6.9 million in 2030 and an increase of 8.7% of 11.7 millions international visitors to Singapore in the last 9 months, the demand for land mode transportation overwhelmingly out-strip supply. As the bus and train system are already horrendously over-crowded, demand for taxis is aggravated. In simple economic theory, to suppress the demand for taxis and remove fringe taxi commuters, taxi fares should be simplified and adjusted to make taxi commuting a luxury, not a necessity like those in Tokyo, London and NewYork.
Correspondingly, customer service must be upgraded to international standards like those in first world cities. Imagine taking a taxi trip from Orchard Road to Ang Mo Kio during peak hour would cost you $25 instead of $12 now. Therefore, my final painkiller is a killer because taxi fare is seemingly preposterous but I believe it will be a reality in 10 - 15 years time down the road.
In conclusion, difficulty in getting a taxi during peak hours is indeed a problem that has plagued the taxi business here for a long time and nobody seems to have a complete solution for it, not even the scholars in LTA. So, in the meantime, a little more patience and understanding would go a long way to make your commuting time more pleasant for both the taxi drivers and yourself. Have a Good Day, Sir/Madam.
Click this Link to watch New York Taxi Drivers Playing Games Like Those in Singapore
Today (1/12/2013), "ST" Managing Editor, Mr. Han Fook Kwang wrote an interesting and comprehensive article on the woes of taxi business in Singapore. Some of his observations are similar to mine, WOW!!!!. Enlarge to read his story in below 2 photo shots.