Wednesday, 17 October 2007


Got to spend a few days in this Lion city. Moving around in cabs could be really enlightening or scary. Not that cabs in this city is any different from those in neighbouring Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand or Hongkong.

Cab drivers are just doing their jobs. Some are motivated in this career or plain courteous, some are bored and tired of getting stuck behind the wheel for 10 or 12 hours, some may be indifferent, while others may just be in the wrong placea at the wrong time without a choice.

Friend of mine just arrived from another country. Not knowing how to get around in the Lion city, they left their journey at the hands of their cab driver from the airport. But, before they realized, they were speeding down this expressway - unwarranted of course - and arrived with a fare which was at about 50 percent more than what it would normally cost. I checked with other taxi drivers and they all gave high and low ranges of fares from the airport to that destination which were about 50 percent lower, hence collaborating my impression/conclusion.

Not so long ago, I read in The Straits Times of Singapore that there numerous cases (sufficient enough to warrant coverage in the Straits Times) of tourists who were forced to negotiate rather than pay by according to fares shown on taxi meter, and taxis waiting but refusing to take passengers unless they negotiate a "favorable" flat rate for them to "go thru the trouble of picking them up and dropping them off at their destination".

Taxi drivers capitalising on peak or late hours are commonplace. I can remember many years ago when I just finished watching an opera in London's West End and couldn't flag a cab. As I walked down the road, there were plenty of taxis parked by the kerb. Upon approaching the first cab and mentioning my destination, he came up with a figure which he thought I wouldn't pay. Being so late at night and weary from a day in hectic London, I agreed and got in. I knew I was paying too much, having lived in London for almost three years during my college days. But, who's to choose.

Same thing in Hongkong. Coming out of a bar in Tsimshatsui toward midnight, there were rows of cabs waiting by the road with a towel over their flags. They all negotiate the ride, their meters redundant.

And when you ring for a cab in Hongkong at peak hours, you have to offer incentives. Several times I've called for a cab and the responses were that there weren't any cabs in the area. BUT, when I offered to add 10,20 or more dollars to the metered fare, depending on how desperate I was, a cab will normally appear within 5 or 10 minutes.

That was before satellite communications and GPSes. I admired Singapore for introducing GPSes in all cabs. They can track them, and can also assist the drivers in getting to the right addresses. Tracking them ensure that cab drivers cannot - to a certain extent - refuse to answer calls if the GPS information show that they're in the neighbourhood cruising for passengers, and nearest to the caller. But most cabs in Singapore wouldn't normally refuse a call as they are entitled to a surcharge for fares booked via the phone; and this surcharge varies between peak and off-peak hoours. For us passengers, we wouldn't need to add that little extra like we had to in Hongkong for drivers already get to add that extra if they answer a call.

Therein lies the next problem.

At peak hours or on a rainy day, cab drivers rarely pick up passengers on the road for these fares would not entitle them to that little surcharge. Most would rather cruise at the far side of the road making them difficult to spot for passengers wishing to flag them, while they wait for the next cab caller who willingly fork out the surcharge. From a couple fo years ago, I have given up the idea of trying to flag down a cab and have always kept several cab companies' numbers handy. That is the surest way of getting from one place to another; even faster than driving and having to look for parking, then retrieving your parked car, assuming you can remember which level and which bay you'd parked in the relatively large multi-storey car parks in most of Singapore's commercial district.

The world's not perfect, isn't it?

Even an organized city/country like Singapore has to live with the opportunistic taxi drivers who were supposedly selected, trained and licensed to drive cabs. What about the rest of the countries in Asia? Try the laws of the jungle, perhaps.

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