The availability of taxis in Singapore is becoming a big problem. For someone like me who has been away for a while, I could tell the difference. There is simply no “Comfort” in our taxis anymore. Getting from point A to point B can be frustrating and confusing. Not just for the locals but also for tourists who rely on our taxis to get around. To make things worst, there are new rules regulating where passengers can alight from a cab. Taking a cab to CBD is like taking a bus – the passenger can only alight at designated taxi stands. This is the stupidest rule someone in the authority came up with. If it is to prevent taxis from jamming the traffic and endangering other motorists, we can always introduce inlets or special lanes for taxi to stop. To create standard taxi stand for all flag-downs is fair and good, but to restrict where a passenger can alight is absolutely senseless. It hinders the convenience of taking a cab, especially on a rainy day.
One of the most common problems is our call-in system and the “mystery of disappearance and appearance of taxis at specific hours”. Any taxi driver with common sense would figure out that it is less-profitable to pick up any passengers 30 minutes before the “peak hours” (example: midnight). Why pick up flag-down passenger when there is a call-in mechanic that will earn them more money? Of course, there is no rule to restrict how our taxi-drivers should do their business. It is simply a “work smart and not hard” policy. But this is the root of the problem as many cab drivers are capitalising on the call-in “bonus cash”. Seriously, our cab companies must look into this as this is becoming a black spot in our “near perfect” tourism image. Profit mongering activities should never be encouraged.
Another confusion is the different tiers of surcharge for different types of taxis. I welcome the newer and bigger cabs but I totally detest the confusing “creative” charges (peak hours, CBD, ERP, midnight, special cabs). At some point, I gave up trying to understand when and how my meter fare ran. Gone were the days when things were simpler and straight-forward. If these are the things we have to compromise for comfort and bigger space, I rather go back to old days when we had decent clean taxis but a standard fare. Surely, what’s the point of having more bigger and newer taxis when more and more of them aren’t available?
When I was in Shanghai, taxi drivers gave discounts for midnight fare. And in Hong Kong, many taxi drivers give discounts if you do special booking. Getting a taxi in Hong Kong is relatively easy (just like how we saw it in those typical Hong Kong drama series). Strangely, Hong Kong is even more congested than Singapore but I don’t see much jams that justify ERPs or peak hour charges. In Singapore, we implemented so many tolls and surcharge to smoother traffics but I don’t see much improvements to the jams in CTE or Orchard Road during the peak hours.
Seriously, if Singapore wants to attract and bring in more tourists, we have to fix this problem. Taxi is one of the most important means of transport for our foreign guests. Taxis are the first point of contact for our visitors. And for these poor tourists, they have to start paying surcharge the minute they leave the airport – not to mention paying the additional peak hours and ERP charges if they landed during the wrong hours. Soon, the same group of tourists may find themselves stranded out there during peak hours (and they are not familiar with our bus or MRT network). It can be a frustrating and painful experience for them. Perhaps our new transport minister should get out of his cozy sedan and spend more time trying to get a taxi (or listening to the repetitive background music of our taxi hotline) in CBD during a freaking hot or wet weather.