“The current fare system is so complex that it is a big joke for a developed country that has a reputation for achieving objectives efficiently and quickly.” - Chin Wah Seng
Let cabbies own their cabs
It might give them more entrepreneurial drive; the plethora of surcharges should also be pruned
While by most measures we have a public transport system that works, it is by no means ideal.
Take our taxi system for instance. Despite the fact that we have some 26,000 cabs on the road, people still have a hard time trying to get one at certain hours. Sometimes you can be on the phone for half-an-hour before you get the annoying response that there is no taxi available then.
Some will tell you that our cab fares are too cheap, therefore implying that they are affordable to too many.
Are they really that cheap? Our fares range from S$2.80 to S$3.20 for the first kilometre, with subsequent distance charges of 20 cents per 385m for the first 10km, and 20 cents per 330m thereafter.
Then there are plethora of surcharges: Peak-hour charges of an additional 35 per cent to the distance fares; S$3 for taking a cab from the Central Business District or from the casinos; S$3 to S$5 in airport charges; electronic road pricing charges, waiting charges and holiday charges. Booking charges vary from S$2.50 to S$5.20 depending on how far ahead you make the call.
Opening the sector to more cab companies was supposed to induce greater competition and, hopefully, better service.
The fare and other service charges among the eight companiesare similar. Yet, at least one has a fuel surcharge which has not been removed although oil prices have recently come down.
Is it little wonder then that our cabbies here are often considered cheats (most often through no fault of their own) by tourists who have no idea what exactly they are paying for?
Now go to Hong Kong. Most Singaporeans who visit the place will tell you that there is little problem getting a cab there, despite the Chinese Special Administrative Region (SAR) having far fewer taxis – just over 18,000 cabs.
And thanks to the strong Singapore dollar vis a vis the Hong Kong currency, cab fares there are often even cheaper than here. The flag-down fare in the SAR is just HK$18 (S$2.84), but it is for the first two kilometres, compared with S$2.80 to $3.20 for half the distance here.
For sure, subsequent distances are charged at HK$1.50 for every 200m. And while Singapore has done away with luggage charges, Hong Kong cabbies charge HK$5 per bag.
But in Hong Kong, most cabbies do away with booking charges (which in any case cost just HK$4), as it saves them from burning up costly fuel while cruising. There is also no midnight charge, which in Singapore adds another 50 per cent to your bill.
Has the introduction of the numerous surcharges led to a more efficient system?
Like many of my fellow cab users, I doubt it. In fact many of our cab drivers (and note that one must be a Singapore citizen to qualify for a licence) are not even familiar with routes, popular buildings and landmarks.
Although Global Positioning devices have declined in price, many of our taxis are not fitted with them. Why?
In fact the surcharge system has led to abuses.
Far too often you will see taxis with the “busy” sign on, or just waiting at certain side lanes for calls to come through. An hour before midnight, it is almost impossible to hail a cab as they wait for the witching hour (midnight) charges to take effect.
With a new Minister for Transport in the person of Lui Tuck Yew, perhaps it is time to review our taxi charges.
Indeed the whole cab system should come under scrutiny. At the very least the number of surcharges should be significantly reduced.
I am sure commuters would not mind paying a little – like increasing the distance charge after the flag-down to say, 20 cents for every 300m. Perhaps too we should go back to the system of old when most cabbies used to own their taxis.
The efficiency of the Hong Kong cab system is perhaps due to the fact that most cab drivers own their vehicles. Competition there for cab licences is so keen that the going price for one now is around HK$5 million.
Despite the numerous surcharges, you only hear gripes from our cabbies.
Ownership of the vehicles they drive might perhaps give them a better incentive to work harder as they would be working for themselves, giving them a sense of entrepreneurship.
I refer to the letter from Mr Peter Tay, “Cabbies still selective of passengers, despite warnings” (July 9). My family and I faced the same problem on Saturday, along Serangoon Avenue 3 at about 10.30pm.
As with Mr Tay’s experience, more than 20 empty taxis went past us with the sign “busy” turned on. It was anyone’s guess that these cabbies were just waiting to profit from the midnight surcharge or for people to dial a cab.
If this is happening in an area outside of town, I am sure it has become commonplace practice. It is ironic that the taxi service which is meant to transport passengers in the late hours could be manipulated by these errant drivers for their own selfish means.
This would not reflect well on the standards of taxi services in Singapore. I urge the relevant authorities to look into the problem urgently and find a solution to put a stop to this before these errant cabbies give the country a bad reputation. Letter from Chan Lai Ying
- “The authorities should filter these group of drivers and put them out of business.”
- “Reprogram the Taxi meter with one that, if it did not register a booking and if driver switch to “ON CALL”, it will register a warning or demerit point, this would require them to pay penalty. Same for “Change shift” ..etc.”
- The taxi problems will continue, unless there is a political will from the top to seriously re-look the matter and be prepared to implement fundamental changes to the system. The root cause of the phenomenon observed by the writer is that it is more profitable for the taxi drivers to respond to taxi calls and to earn the surcharge than to pick up passengers by the roadside.”)
I REFER to the letters from Mr Peter Tay, “Cabbies still selective of passengers, despite warnings” (July 9) and Ms Chan Lai Ying, “Errant cabbies will give Singapore a bad reputation” (July 12).
I fully agree with the writers and I strongly urge the relevant authority to consider scrapping the midnight and town-area surcharges, at the same time capping the phone booking surcharge to a maximum of S$1 irrespective of the time of booking.
These surcharges have been the perennial problem as clearly some cabbies have exploited them to create a “false” demand which in turn leads to the justification of the endless extra charges by the taxi companies, with the passengers bearing all of the cost.
If the surcharges are eliminated, those errant drivers who are perpetually “busy” cruising and waiting for phone booking and midnight charges will no longer have any incentive to do so.
They will simply have to return to the basic and fair method of earning the fares, that is to pick up any passengers who flag them down.
Singapore is often compared with Hong Kong in many aspects, including public transport.
Hong Kong has a larger population (7 million) than Singapore’s (5.18 million). The Hong Kong Transport Department website states that there are 18,138 taxis in the territory, while taxi operators in Singapore have a combined fleet of 26,970.
With nearly 50 per cent more taxis here and a higher taxi-to-population ratio than in Hong Kong, why do we hear regular complaints about the unavailability of taxis in Singapore? Another set of numbers suggests the root of the problem.
Taxi phone bookings in Hong Kong cost HK$5 (S$0.80) at most and regardless of time, compared to S$2.30 (off-peak), S$3.30 (peak and after midnight) and S$8 (advance booking) in Singapore now. I urge all taxi operators to do away with booking charges or cap them at S$1, irrespective of time.
Taxi drivers would then have little or no incentive to cruise empty and wait for bookings while wasting precious fuel, and more cabbies would pick up passengers who flag them down.
The letter “Single flag-down fare system puts cabbies, passengers on equal ground” (Oct 18) was a perfectly succinct response to our taxi woes.
The current fare system is so complex that it is a big joke for a developed country that has a reputation for achieving objectives efficiently and quickly. With such multi-layered charging conditions, passengers do not remember the fare schedule; to spare themselves the stress, they simply pay the fare.
I would like to hear from the authorities how such a complicated fare system developed: The reasons and objectives it intended for a straightforward public service. If this system must be changed, what are the difficulties we will face and how different is the Singapore situation from other cities and countries?