Sunday, December 16, 2007

My take on Singapore taxi hike.

Am reading in disgust, about the news debate about the yet again another recent taxi price hike in Singapore. I think what irks me the most was ComfortDelgro's statement quoted from the newspaper that

" The latest round of fare hikes by ComfortDelgro, the biggest taxi operator here with a fleet of about 15,000 cabs, will bring our fares much closer to Hong Kong's. Hong Kong's taxi charges have often been perceived as a good benchmark."

Their arguement is that because HK taxi charges THAT price, hence it is reasonable for SIngapore taxi to charge the same amount. What utter crap!!!!

The MAIN difference and my main contention is that HK taxi are in ABUNDANT SUPPLY!!! That means that as a potential passenger, i NEVER EVER have to WAIT by the roadside for a cab feeling the heat (apart from the 4-4.30pm changing of taxi shift). The MAXIMUM amount of time spend on flagging a cab down ANYWHERE in Hong Kong apart from rural area is at tops 3mins. Most days, i get one almost instantly. There is always a red cab round the corner, there is always a stream of flowing taxis everywhere in major city and mall. Even at the worst time where taxi are changing shift, a decent taxi Q outside Times Square where i use to work, while the taxi Q may be empty, yet taxi would still be driving in at about 1 or 2 cabs per 3 min. So the line was essentially moving just albeit at a slower rate than usual. And if the taxi driver isnt sure about the destination, he can easily radio in and some other taxi drivers or the main control station will radio back with the QUICKEST and NON congested route to where i needed to go. And whereever there is a congestion at anywhere, I would hear taxi comrades "warning" other taxi drivers not to enter the area if avoidable. Thus, saving passengers like me much possible grief of being stranded in an unpleasant jam.

On the other hand, what do singapore taxi operator offers? A long fustrating wait of over 10-15mins, even if i am lucky to get through the booking system. At the roadside even of a more popular mature estate, I can count my lucky stars if I can flag one down within 10-20mins. There was once at Boat Quay (link), I couldnt see a cab for 30mins at 11pm, and have to wait for 5mins before i could get through a booking operator and another endless 10mins wait on the line for "an available" cab. In the end, a waiting empty cab honk me and asked me if i wanted to take his cab as his passenger "never showed up". However on condition that I had to pay the booking fee in place of the MIA passenger. Seeing that I had already wasted 45mins, what is $3 booking fee in comparison to another possible waiting on the line. Even though i hate to surrender to blackmail, yet I was in a fix. I always have a choice. To board and be done with it, or I could spend precious 10-20mins more waiting on the phone and at the roadside, not to mention my mobile bill $$$$ ticking away as i wait, plus i reason i had to pay that booking fee anyway for a cab i am calling. It was not a win win situation but I was in no position to argue nor bargain.. so its like rubbing salt to a wound when i read what Comfort Delgro had to say about the recent hike.

In fact, MANY of my HK colleagues who travel to singapore for work often complain to me and mock our CONSTANT "lack" of taxi supply and the almost non existent of cabs especially near midnight. My HK friend would proudly pull the comparison of ever flowing of taxis in his city and remind me of my own country's inadequate handling of taxi demand and supply.

Many taxi drivers in HK are also not well paid, and most have worse living standards than singapore. Our taxi drivers have (optional CPF of 2.5% interest with occasional govt dishing out bonus handout), and cheaper health care expenses in comparison to our HK peers with a pathetic 5% MPF contribution that is a form of investment and not a guaranteed fixed interest and returns like ours, so what are our taxi drivers complaining about? I am not convinced that average $3k is insufficient to get by in singapore, not luxurious for sure, but barely surviable is a long stretch as far as i am concerned.

Hence the theory that we should equate our taxi fares with HK is both unrealistic and unreasonable because your service and supply of taxi is unequal to begin with!

Isnt it sickening when vendors like Comfort Delgro can make such sweeping argument because the bulk of singaporeans has never lived in HK to counter argue with them? At the end of the day, its all about more profits and dividends, with little respite for frustrated customers like us.

To top off, peak hour our trains are often JAM PACK not to mention jostling with sweaty humid crowd. Our train system is also less desirable than HK. The average waiting time in HK is about 1-2 mins waiting time all time round. In peak hour, I am often pampered with a min train wait in HK. In singapore, I am often left waiting for 7mins wait at non peak and 2-3mins wait on average peak hours. Sometimes the train is so full at cityhall to the east that i have to miss 2trains to board another if I stop being nice and giving way, so the wait is no longer a minute wait even at peak hour in singapore. Singapore train is only better than sydney as far as i can say.

Much that I hate the noise and pollution and contamination of food in HK, I would always fondly and proudly remember their best transport in the countries I have travelled to -HK train and taxi and their mini bus system.

(PS: Btw, in HK taxi, "creative" Taxi drivers will also dish out their own calling cards to passengers hoping to convert them to regulars and in exchange, I get further 10 -15% discount off the travel fare in future if i ring them up to pick me up. Hence i get a PERSONAL service at a cheaper price. I wonder if taxi operators will allow that to catch on in singapore too?)


The Singapore Daily said...

Hi, I've featured your post at The Singapore Daily []. Keep blogging!

Billy Cheong said...

Singapore's Taxi drivers do not have CPF.

"me-no-mad" said...

thank you Billy. I meant to type optional CPF and have corrected that

littlecartnoodles said...

Singapore's cabbies will never offer discounts to drum up more business because they :
(a) don't want to get in trouble cos "it's against the rules"
(b) aren't creative or hungry enough
(c) are just terrible businessmen

Anonymous said...

And in this whole debate, nobody seems to have mentioned that in most countries, the drivers own their vehicles. In Singapore, you have to rent the vehicle from an effective monopoly (yes, we have a few operators, but Comfort is so big to the extent that what the others do will hardly matter).

"me-no-mad" said...

Perhaps if the taxi drivers owned their cars in singapore, they would learned to be more careful on the road and stop tailgating, stopping suddenly and randomly at the roadside? I stray.. and back to the discussion on your comment.

If i may add to the point of discussion, consumers in HK have additional tpt choice, the mini bus, which is excellent form of alternative, it is cheaper and faster (with limited stops at a fixed route, at a flat rate that ranges HK$4-8 depending on which route). So if I have something heavy to carry and I do not want to pay HK$70 for my 15min taxi ride, I can opt to walk abit further to the mini bus stop and pay HK$8 for the mini bus that travel the same route back home, in about the SAME time. In singapore, We do not have that alternative and hence we as consumers are again held at "ransom" of any price hike. So HK taxi drivers have more competition even if they do own their vehicle. In SARS and bird flu, these drivers also have nothing to fall back on. It is a ghost town in HK and no tourists and locals normally do not grab cab. Even owning vehicle doesnt mean it doesnt come with cost. They have to pay for the car and insurance, overly damaged car have to be replaced with a new LPG car etc.

Agreeably, no conditions are ever or can be the same. However the discussion is that whether price hike is warranted and as consumers, what good alternatives do we have. Our train system still isnt matching up to HK either. In HK, i am so pampaered that i normally only have to wait 1 min during peak hour for each train, and only slightly more 2mins in non peak. In singapore, I was shocked when I had to wait for 7mins once to city. Now is that comparable service again if i need to get somewhere fast?

In HK, a taxi driver once told me a half day earning for good day, is perhaps over HK$600-800. Now, translate that to singapore dollars.