From various letters, 1 Oct 2012, ST Forum
(Sng Kee Chuan): I AM surprised such a practice exists (“No taxis? Some offer extra cash to get a ride”; last Friday). Some taxi drivers already take their taxis off the road to wait for call bookings, or for peak-hour surcharges to kick in – a common complaint among commuters. Allowing illegal booking services only provides an opportunity for more cabbies to take their taxis off the road – further reducing the supply.
(Jack Chew): GOVERNMENT Parliamentary Committee for Transport vice-chairman Seng Han Thong and transport expert Lee Der Horng appear to be advocating a free market system for taxis That is tantamount to agreeing that it is all right to let a commuter at the back of a taxi queue flash a $50 note to get to the front and into a taxi. What if there are others, including seniors and unwell commuters, who are in front?
(Ng Kei Yong):…Of greater concern were the responses of National Taxi Association president Wee Boon Kim and National University of Singapore transport researcher Lee Der Horng, which seem to imply that there is nothing wrong with the practice of offering extra cash to get a cab.
Taxis are a public transport service. The drivers are licensed and must provide the service to the public fairly and responsibly. In return, concessions are given to taxi operators by the authorities. If this practice of providing services only to the highest bidder is allowed, one might as well allow taxis without meters and cabbies to choose whom to provide their services to.
In the original article, GPC member Lim Biow Chuan and vice-chair and MP Seng Han Thong seemed to be at odds regarding this practice of paying more for jumping the queue. Lim said it would be unfair to commuters, while Seng responded that ‘this is the reality on the ground where some passengers prefer a personalised service..It’s a HAPPY BUYER, HAPPY SELLER situation.’ Transport expert Professor Lee Der Horng had the impression that if the passenger is offering to pay more, and there was mutual agreement, then there’s nothing illegal about it. Not a regular taxi commuter myself, I’ve nonetheless had first-hand experience of being late for an appointment and getting distressed over the fact that despite waiting for a good half hour and finally getting to be first in line, I’d still see ‘On Call’ cabs come and pick up people who had come out of NOWHERE, passengers who might as well thumb their nose at you and go ‘Nyah nyah’ as they scoot away, though most of the time they avoid eye contact in fear of getting shopping trolleys flung at them.
People who wish to scrimp on booking fees will be forced to wait needlessly, and can no longer use ‘There was a long Q at the taxi stand’ or ‘There were no taxis in sight’ as an excuse anymore. You should have call-booked, or get assistance from a independent radiotaxi service like Lakeview. If I had to rush to the hospital to see a dying relative, I would appreciate some backdoor assistance pronto. If a cabbie is willing to offer priority service and I make it worth his while, my $50 ‘tip’ in exchange to get where I want on TIME is pittance, even if it meant leapfrogging over someone in a wheelchair or a woman about to give birth. The downside is such desperation is liable to abuse, with cabbies conspiring to make themselves scarce, so that all involved in the network would benefit from a forced ‘premium’, which puts the more ‘public-spirited’ cabbies at a disadvantage, cabbies who waste fuel patrolling the streets looking for damsels in distress, while his peers park somewhere and have forty winks while awaiting a forty dollars fee from anyone desperate enough to pay.
Such practices are nothing new. In 1989, if you asked for a ‘Code 3′, you will get exclusive access to a taxi even if none was available initially. This means paying a measly $3 extra on top of the meter value, which the Registrar of Vehicles considered as ‘overcharging’. It’s like asking for a ‘special’ after a sleazy massage, or giving a waiter something extra to play along to a surprise wedding proposal. It’s undisclosed and agreed upon, in other words, a FAIR deal, but you don’t accuse the service providers of ‘overcharging’ if you know exactly what you’re in for. Then there’s the issue of whether taxis are a form of public transport. In 2007, the same transport researcher Professor Lee described taxis as such:
‘Taxis are not public transportation… (but) should be considered as a complement to public transport because it offers door-to-door transport services to those who need car-like transportation but do not own a car.’
That’s assuming of course, that our REAL public transport system is up to par. The ones suffering from mixed perceptions are the taxi drivers themselves, who are torn between running the show like businessmen, or as an accompaniment to buses and trains. If you have children to feed and send to school, and everyone you know is plying the illegal trade of pandering to ‘big-spenders’ or living off call booking, why not join ‘em if you can’t beat ‘em? Chances are cabbies who follow strictly ‘by the book’ are a dying breed. So there either must be an incentive to loyal drivers who abide by the ethic of ‘first come first served’, or a deterrent for those benefiting from under-the-table premiums. LTA decided that imposing a penalty would be the easier way out, compared to say, suggestions to make flagdown taxi-driving more profitable or scrapping call-booking altogether.
Taking cabs in Singapore is still a frightful ordeal at times, and though there may be still some who persist in being ‘public service providers’ and serve Singaporeans without the ‘income opportunity’ mentality, there should be still some wiggle-room for operators to cater for those dire moments when you REALLY need a ride and are willing to pay extra for it. There are services where you pay more to get urgent parcels sent from point A to point B. Why not the same for taxis when that parcel is you?