Saturday 30 August 2014

Reflection On My Termination as a Comfort Cabby

Lately, I couldn't spend much time at my computer because I would quickly develop a splitting headache while looking at the monitor. As I wrote these words, I tried to avoid focusing at the screen to mitigate the pain. Reducing the brightness and contrasts of the monitor didn't help much. "Panadol" is my quick pain reliever. My font size is now at it's maximum.

I guess my headache is due of an eye condition I was recently diagnosed with called "Glaucoma"..which has been called the "silent thief of sight" because the loss of vision often occurs gradually over a long period of time. Once lost, vision is irreversible, so treatment is aimed at preventing further loss. If untreated, it would lead to complete blindness in a few years.

Fortunately, only my right eyed is 70% blinded. My left eye is perfect. With daily eye drops to reduce the eye pressure that damage the optic nerves, my vision is maintained. But straining my eyes to focus would tend to initiate a headache. Now, I spent less time with the love of my life...reading and cyber space. 

Sometime I felt a tinge of sadness and misgivings. I wonder and so do many elderly people, how did time sped away so quickly? Wasn't it just yesterday that my eye sights and legs were stronger? My hair is still reasonably black but my skin is crumpled with age spots. Yesterday, my memories were like daylight. And climbing, running, jumping and squatting were taken for granted? Today, aches, pains and comatose are my un-welcomed friends. I learn to be philosophical and accept these changes that are beyond my control.

Growing old is like a journey on a train. You want to stay on to watch life pass by but your ticket has expired and the ticket inspector expelled you. Though I cannot resist growing old or avoid been eventually expelled, I hope to be as active as possible in my remaining years. 

Now, this brings me to share with you a recent part of my active working life as a Singaporean cabby, albeit depressing in certain aspect.

I've been a loyal taxi driver with Comfort for close to 7 years and like 25,000 of my fellow Comfort drivers, I had invariably contributed in a small way to their recent revenue of S$239 millions. During this period of driving, I ferried at least 50,000 passengers. Inevitably, some of my customers are pleased with my service while some may not. 

Honestly, I received more compliments than brickbats. While compliments are seldom relied to Comfort, complaints gets their immediate action. Two or three complaints from my 50,000 passengers will get me the sack from the company, irrespective of the nature, triviality or truthfulness of the complaint. That is the daunting reality of being a cabby with Comfort.  

You might think that Comfort is strict with drivers so that passengers will get better customer service. No, I wish to differ. Please allow me to explain:

Firstly, if a hirer of COMFORT's Sonata taxi who is paying a rental of $105 is sacked, Comfort can immediately re-lease out the same taxi to a new hirer at $ additional rental income of $10 per day. In a year, Comfort gets an additional income of $3,600 per taxi. If 3,000 Sonata taxis are recycled to new hirers, an additional income of $10.8million is generated annually. Comfort has about 12,000 Sonata taxis to recycle and a large pool of anxious taxi drivers waiting to join them. Recycling only 3,000 Sonata taxi is an easy target to achieve. Therefore, in reality, they egregiously sack many of their Sonata drivers for the lucrative millions and certainly not to improve better customer service for passengers.

Secondly, Comfort has a department delegated to handle passengers complaints. It is staffed with 3 or 4 executive officers, each with a private office and assistants. Most of these officers are long service old-timers. Day in and day out, they handle routine complaints of almost similar nature, like driver is rude, taking longer route, refusing to pick passengers, rejecting cashless payment, overcharging, late pick-up, silent-treatment, reckless driving and the list of complaints goes on and on.

My point is "Routine work breeds complacency and mediocrity". These Comfort officers hardly conduct thorough investigation into a passenger's complaint. They never leave their comfortable chair and desk to seek evidences, witness or visit the site of complaint for collaboration. Usually, after receiving a telephone or written customer's complaint, they will just call up the driver for their explanation and at most, they invite the taxi driver to their office to hear the driver's side of the story. Thereafter and inveterately without further ado, they will issue the driver with a STANDARD warning letter stressing that the driver had committed a "service lapse" and failed to uphold the company's good image. They never give a second thought as to what would be the traumatic emotional and finance impact of their warning/termination letter on their drivers. Needless to say, these affected Comfort drivers either swallow the indignation in silence or leave the company to join another taxi operator.  

In the taxi market, every taxi driver knows that Comfort would only accept the passenger's side of the story and penalize their drivers unreasonably. They unconditionally side with the passengers in all complaints. In addition, any passenger who made a successful complaint gets rewarded with free taxi vouchers.

If Comfort treat their drivers so badly, why do taxi drivers still want to join Comfort?. Well, Comfort has plenty of call bookings and taxi drivers love it, as it improves their income. But this preference for joining Comfort will change with third party taxi booking applications like GrabTaxi, EasyCab and Uber coming into the market!

Now, I know that Comfort is basically a taxi rental company. I lease their taxi and is obligated to adhere to their rules and regulations. They have the prerogative to terminate our lease contract and I enjoy the same rights too because I can join another taxi operator as and when I like. But is it fair to terminate a contract arbitrary and solely based on a frivolous complaint or worst, due a mediocre officer job performance?. That's is my main point of contention.

Now, I let me be honest and tell you the reason for my grouses. I felt my contract was unfairly terminated recently.

Please allow me to share with you my case file.

At lunch time about three weeks ago, I picked up 4 Chinese office girls from Star Shopping Mall at North Buona Vista. It was drizzling lightly. They wanted to drop off at their office at Ulu Pandan Community Club at Ghim Moh Estate. They were probably in their mid-twenties and were People's Association office staff.
After they boarded my cab, I offered my towel for them to wipe off whatever rain water that might be at the back doors. One lady at the back said that she had already used her hand to dry the few wet spots and returned my towel. I expressed my gratitude for her initiative. The girls were pleased with my politeness and began happily chatting among themselves until we approached the lobby of the building.

A big lorry had blocked the entrance into the lobby. I waited for the lorry to move over. But the lorry driver came out to wave me away as he had no intention of giving way. The light drizzling had stopped. There was no way I could get into the sheltered lobby with the big lorry blocking the entrance. A few minutes later, I dropped them a few steps away from the lobby shelter behind the lorry and asked them whether they were happy. That was all I said.

The plump girl beside me paid the taxi fare of $4.30 and unhappily asked for a receipt. Instinctively, I knew she intended to complain against me and I kept quiet. I think she was angry that I dropped them a few steps away from the lobby shelter and they were probably caught in the very light drizzle which I thought had stopped. Maybe I should not have said "are you happy now" or I should have spoken those words to her in a subservient tone and manner. She probably felt I was rude but the other 3 girls were nonchalant.

As expected, five hours later, a lady from Comfort called me for an explanation of the incident. I honestly explained to her as written here. She told me that she would file the report accordingly and let the management made the final decision. I forgot to ask her what were the subject matter of the complaint. Four days later, I received a registered letter informing me of my contract termination due to my frequent service lapse.

Frankly, I'm not surprised. A few months back, I predicted my days with Comfort were numbered after an earlier complaint (Link) . My termination came sooner than expected. It has been three weeks since I ceased driving a cab. But nothing will alter my desire to continue leading an active life as a taxi driver with another taxi operator as long as I'm fit and healthy in my remaining years.

What I'm most indignant with is the indifference work attitude of those "duffers" in Comfort in managing passengers complaints. Now I can only sanguinely hope that they will treat and protect my buddies, who are still with them like the exemplary management philosophy of our polyclinic shown in this picture.


"We are dedicated to provide you
with our best service and care.
We seek your cooperation in
helping us create an atmosphere
of mutual respect in the Polyclinic" 


WB said...

If what you say is true, Comfort should launch an immediate and thorough investigation into this sordid state of affairs.

First off are he dead woods in the complaint office. If they are working in the manner as described, they should be the ones to be sacked and be replaced by all those youngsters coming out from our Unis and Polys. It is absolutely correct to say that after some time, they tend to become complacent in their jobs, merely passing each day as a 9 to 5 routine and collecting their meal tickets at the end of the month. There are plenty of such dead woods in most GLCs. For a start, sack them and let them have a taste of driving a taxi for their meal tickets instead of marking time in their airconditioned comfort zones.

James, chin up. Join another taxi company and hope you will have a long and rewarding occupation of your own choosing despite your eye problems.

I hope one day we will meet and exchange views during the trip.

Knowing how hard it is to earn a living as a taxi driver, I usually give a generous tip to help them along if the service is just merely mundane on my way to the airport.

Anonymous said...

I have been reading your blog off and on for a few years now and am very sorry to hear of your health problems and your employment woes.

Stay strong my friend.

Best wishes

Diary of a Singaorean Cabby said...

Hi, WB & Annon,

Thanks to both of you for your support and comments.

Everything written about the incident that got me the final warning letter is the truth, nothing but the truth, Amen!!

Newbie cabbie said...

I am surprised they terminated you based on what you wrote. But companies normally put customer service ahead of "staff" welfare. Who are these desperate cabbies to them? Sad but true.

But no worries lah, you can join SMRT or Transcab or whatever and life goes on. Just be mindful of what you say or do when driving. Best policy is to keep quiet and don't talk so much (as I noticed you said you are a chatty cabbie many times). Just do your job and move on to the next job as quickly as possible.

Good luck. By the way, I am also a cabbie but a new one - 1 month old baby :)

Diary of a Singaorean Cabby said...

Hi Newbie Cabby,

Thanks for your comments.

One month on the job and you're already.....I think I better don't say so much.

Good Luck!

Anonymous said...

Hi James, I am 61 this year and I have glaucoma about 18 months ago . I have loss 80% of my sight. My kampong boys who happens to be a doctor advices me to take natural E supplement. I have recovered nearly 70% of my sight. I hope you gave it a try. I am working in Bangkok for the last 15 years. My Besh Wishes & Stay Healthy.

Diary of a Singaorean Cabby said...

Hi, Anon.

I'm extremely grateful that you take the trouble to help me with your advice on how to treat Glaucoma with natural E supplement. Although all the books say that vision lost to Glaucoma is irreversible, I'll heed your advice to try E supplement. No harm trying, Right?. I'm a sensible person.

Thanks again for writing to me here.

James Lim

Anonymous said...

If nothing else natural E will prevent stroke. Stay healthy and I hope to meet up with you the next time I am back to Singapore.
Regards Chris

Newbie cabbie said...

Hi James, no offence intended in my previous comment. I enjoyed reading your blog and have learned a lot of things. Really appreciate your effort in updating this blog regularly.

In just one month as a cabby, I have already seen much although, no doubt, there will be more to see, lol.

Like I say, I don't like to talk with pax unless they start the conversation. Had a bad experience talking too much and took the slightly longer route (just 1km more) and then kena accused of cheating by the damned pax. Even wanted to report police, lol.

Ugly pax aside, I also witnessed ugly cabbies who pick & choose their pax even though it is an offence. Just this morning at about 8.30am, I saw 2 cabs stopped and talked to potential street pax and then drove up, leaving them stranded there. Don't tell they are changing shift at this time?

Also, at one time, I picked up a lady pax near Mustafa at about 8pm and she complained that she stopped 7-8 taxis and all refused to take her to Tiong Bahru, saying change shift! We cabbies know the true reasons lah.

Like you, I quit working some years back and did some business which was good initially. Then, it went downhill and I had to look for a job but being over 50, I know my chances are near zero. I have no choice but to turn to driving a taxi to feed the family even though I have a degree from NUS.

I am saddened by your unjust dismissal from Confort but I hope you can take this as an opportunity for change and maybe a better life with one of the other cab companies. I am with Comfort currently but am prepared to move anytime should things turn ugly.

Good luck!

Unknown said...

Sorry to hear about your state, James, no matter, looking on the brighter side, you will surely be happier with another taxi company, as I have personally found out.

You are right about Comfort, 300,000 trips and hard work, with some excellent service interspersed in between, does not concern to them. 3 dubious complaints and you are treated like a criminal and not good for your job.

They may be also worried about your active blogging I suspect. No matter, keep up the good work, you have many people's respect and not least mine.

There is no shame in making an honest living; more shameful perhaps with unsympathetic bureaucratic policies.

Take care of your health and wish you a better tomorrow. ..

obat diabetes alami said...

Nice Share. I wait the update

Diary of a Singaorean Cabby said...

Hi, Newbie Cabby & Tommy Tan.

First of all, sorry for my slow response to your comments. I really appreciate both of your support, sympathy and encouragement at my recent predicament. In the last 2 days, I was busy registering and attending courses with a new taxi operator and should be starting to drive a cab next week. I reckon everything should be back to normal in my life, although the last 3 weeks was a well deserved and unplanned rest.

Before I forget, thank you also for sharing your cabby driving experience and stories with "bad" customers. We are in the same boat but from now onwards, I shall treat my customers with caution and never take them for granted. Actually, I should have known better with my age and experience. But I failed in this respect. I'm still leaning.

Good luck to both of you and "Drive-Safe".

James Lim

Gintai_昇泰 said...

Don't worry James. It's not the end of the world. There are other taxi operators out there. Keep up with your high spirit and continue with your work. We are always here for you.

Eunice Eleanor said...

So sorry to hear that! It's their losses. If that's the way they treat their drivers, then i'm gonna stop calling Comfort cabs from now onwards.

Unknown said...

Join red lah. Confirm buay tio pok.

Xianlong said...

Those 3rd party booking apps which i've never tried but read that they allow drivers & passengers to rate each other.

Instead of 1 sided, it is now both ways. With that drivers can reject passengers with bad reviews.

Des said...

After reading so many of it....many passenagers just don't understand our nature of job...making us more and more difficult in earning a living.....

Anonymous said...

hi go join transcab taxi company, i am also a taxi driver, they are having a promotion now. if you drive their chevorelt, at the end of 6 months, you get $500 and another $500 end of the yr. anyone from that company recommend you in a a hirer also gets the same amount, they call it introduction fees..there is a saying, there are plenty of grass over the hill if the current patch don't suits you. good luck!

Anonymous said...

Very accurate description of Comfort. For far too long, they have been very arrogant and arbitrary in their dealings. They have ZERO respect for what is truly right.

Anonymous said...

It used to be that if you really want to make a proper living out of cab driving , you will be a fool not to drive Comfort. Today, bec of 3rd party apps, the opposite is true . We pity anyone driving a Comfort cab because you will be subject to arbitrary humiliation by your own Company, and you do not have a voice.
It's like being robbed of any self-dignity.
I was a Comfort driver previously and I know EXACTLY what you are talking about.

Anonymous said...

You are an experienced taxi driver so most of the other taxi companies would want you since there is likely to be less complains compared to new drivers. Only problem is it would be harder to find a relief driver with other companies so you would more likely have to OMO. Very stupid of Comfort to let go of experienced taxi drivers as new drivers alway get complains.