At the mercy of poor cab services in Singapore

Photo by Kshatriya
by Conrad Raj
If the latest round of price hikes by transport provider ComfortDelGro brings about a better cab service, there will be little reason to complain. Unfortunately I believe that will not be the case and the level of service will be, at best, no better.

At the current level of fares and surcharges, many taxi drivers are picking and choosing their passengers. Logic says that if they can get more money for the same job, they are going to work less hard, not strive for better service.

In any other place there would be such a hue and cry over the move by Comfort. As it is, cab rides here are not all that cheap – often more expensive than in Hong Kong. The flagdown here is significantly higher; in Hong Kong it is HK$18 (less than S$3) for the first two kilometres to our 1km.

Oh yes, Comfort will reduce the peak hour charges from 35 per cent of the metered fare to 25 per cent, and the holiday surcharge of S$1 will go. Some booking charges will be reduced slightly.

But the overall effect will be commuters having to pay more for their trips from next week. The flagdown will cost at least 20 cents more, while the peaks hours will be extended and the evening peak-period will be applied to Sundays and public holidays too.

Comfort is doing the revision, which comes into effect next week, on the basis that “strong” population growth and an increase in tourists have led to a substantial rise in demand.

So with more commuters in the market, wouldn’t taxi drivers be earning more from the increased volume of demand for their service? Or is Comfort perversely attempting to dampen demand by making taxi rides unpalatable?

On one hand the Government discourages people from owning cars – but at the same time, public transport is costing us more because of the resulting greater demand. Does this not seem weird?

National Taxi Association (NTA) president Wee Boon Kim was quoted as saying: “It has been more than four years (since the last fare adjustment) and like most Singaporeans, our drivers too look forward to annual improvements in their take-home income so as to provide a better life for their families.”

I am all for a better life for all here. But the very fact that cabbies pick and choose their passengers is an indication that the present fare structure is more than adequate.

Our cab drivers appear not hungry enough, unlike in Hong Kong where most taxi drivers own their vehicles and have to bid huge amounts for their licences. This is because our cab drivers are mollycoddled with all kinds of surcharges.

Just last Monday, I waited for 45 minutes along North Bridge Road near Arab Street to get a cab. I finally decided to take a bus to my destination in Somerset Road – not because there were no empty taxis but because they refused to stop for me or others trying to hail one.

In fact, more than two dozen cabs passed by with their green or blue lights on.

And to add to my angst, the same thing happened on the same night on Penang Road, with scores of frustrated commuters left flailing their arms in vain.

Did Comfort consider reducing taxi rentals to put more money in the pockets of its drivers? It can well afford to do so as it reported recently that revenue for the third quarter to end-September from its local business rose S$11 million to S$191.7 million, thanks to the larger operating fleet and higher cashless transactions. Operating profit was S$1.4 million higher at S$23.3 million.

Perhaps the Competition Commission should take a look at the call by the NTA for other cab companies to follow Comfort’s move, which sounds suspiciously like a cartel at work.

Comfort, with its 15,700 taxis here, should be looking to giving the commuter a comfortable ride, not discomfort with price hikes. Or is this a prelude to a hike in taxi rentals?

-Today Online –