Lingo Lingo music video not reflecting Singaporean way of life

From ‘Still no go for Lingo’, 22 Aug 15, article in TNP

…The video was uploaded onto YouTube on Aug 4. It features Ah Boys To Men star Tosh Zhang, local singer-actor Bunz and their entourage flanked by a fleet of supercars and sexy girls in lingerie, rapping about Singlish.

It was criticised by some netizens, who said it did not reflect Singaporeans’ way of life as it promoted a super luxurious lifestyle with scenes of well-dressed young people hanging out by a private jet.

Lingo Lingo Where You Go was screened for free at the National Library on July 25. The short film, which cost close to $100,000 to make, is about a man who wakes up from a 10-year coma to a world of unfamiliar Singlish terms and phrases.

…Freelance model-actress Melody Low, 22, who is the main female star in the video, is not affected by the negative feedback. She told TNP: “It is quite common these days for people to have differing views as they have different tastes and mindsets.

“Some netizens say that the Lamborghinis do not represent Singaporeans. However, we are a First World country and Singapore has one of the highest rate of people buying supercars, so I think it is okay.”

Melody doesn’t do much except pout and preen for a few seconds in the Lingo video, though what she said about supercar ownership in Singapore is not too far off the mark. For anyone familiar with the rap genre, it’s all about swag posturing with fast cars, bling, babes and booty. You even have a singer in there who calls himself ‘Bunz’. Definitely not something to sign off graffiti with. If the private jet scenes look familiar, it’s because the director was clearly inspired by the video for ‘I Want it That Way’ by the Backstreet Boys. Well at least it’s not THESE dandy guys rapping instead.

Some of the verses in here are truly cringeworthy, like ‘Wassup Lah Leh Lor’, or ‘I love my Singlish like my Ferrari/Just like my mee rebus, teh peng and curry’. The problem with the video is not the blatant ripoff from Fast and Furious, the use of Autotune, or Bunz singing about his Ferrari, but that ‘Lingo Lingo’ takes itself way too seriously.  And ironically, this vulgar glamourisation of Singlish would be an effective way of getting Singaporeans to STOP using it, whether its echo is louder than the Lambo or not. And nothing irritates me more than the cocky vroom vroom of a supercar on a small street. Kao peh la!

Here’s a curious history of the genre known as ‘Singlish rap’, ranked in ascending order of personal preference. Note that this is not ‘Singaporean rap’, but rap incorporating elements of Singlish (lingo, intonation) and inevitably some low-brow humour. So the unwatchable MDA rap is thankfully excluded.

Special mentions:

An interesting companion to the ‘Lingo Lingo Where you Go’ video, where Mr Brown and his podcast gang lament about COE and ERP. Or should I say, the E to the R to the P.

A rap about not wearing pants. Not much different from most commercial rap songs nowadays.

6. ‘Excuse me ah, while I give you a kick!’ – PCK (A happy journey starts like that, 2009)

The irony of this public service announcement rap is that it’s not typically Singlish to say ‘Hey you over there’. In terms of effectiveness, this video did nothing in terms of commuter graciousness, but it paved the way for the Dim Sum Dollies. Phua Chu Kang also appears more than once in this list. Which says a lot about the genre.

5. ‘Some say Leh, Some say Lah’ – PCK (The Sar-vivor rap, 2003)

Here’s PCK again telling you wash your hands to ward off SARS. Unfortunately people remember the ‘some say lah/leh’ lyric more than the rest of the stuff that’s actually important. Yes, there’s an album for this, and ‘lah leh lor’ is still as frequently used as ever. ‘Don’t be a Regretter’, thankfully, didn’t ‘Sar-vive’ as a catchphrase for long. The lingo Gods have spoken.

Screen Shot 2015-08-22 at 4.41.26 PM

4. ‘I’m just a recruit so I really bobian’ – Recruits’ Anthem, Ah Boys To Men

Another Tosh Rock rap from the Ah Boys soundtrack. Propaganda much. Retired generals can use this as their entrance song when they conduct rallies.

3. ‘Some say we kiasu, some say we kiasi’ – Limpeh, Shigga Shay (2013)

The above line sounds like a nod to the SARS rap, but this is a better effort from Tosh Rock, who guest stars on this track. I suspect the reason why this put ‘Lion City Kia’ Shigga Shay firmly in the limelight is that it’s rapped mostly in Hokkien. Of course it would be even funnier if veteran actor Richard Low performs this. He’s totally wasted on Tanglin.

2. ‘No chai tau quay then kai fan lor’ – Rasa Sayang, Dick Lee (1989)

Moe Alkaff is hilarious here. The Singaporean-ness is strong on this one, though it comes from a musician who’s not exactly known for busting gangsta rhymes. Apparently in the late eighties, according to Dick, ‘life is like a holi-holiday’. We also could afford pagers and ‘cordless’ phones. However, it mentions Sang Nila Utama and Raffles, not no LKY. WHHHYYY.

1.’I always give you chocolate, I give you my Tic Tac, but now you got a Kit Kat, you never give me back’ – Why you so like that, Kopi Kat Klan (1991)

The mutha of all Singlish rap. Charming, timeless and sibei funny.

Yusof Ishak’s name misspelt in SG50 commemorative package

From ‘Typos in packaging of SG50 commemorative notes’, 20 Aug 2015, article in CNA

The launch of the SG50 commemorative notes set on Thursday (Aug 20) was marred by typos.

The name of Singapore’s first President Yusof Ishak was misspelt as “Yusok Ishak” on a foldout portion of the packaging as well as in an enclosed booklet. There were no errors in the spelling of his name on the commemorative notes, released to mark Singapore’s Golden Jubilee.

In response to Channel NewsAsia’s queries, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said it is printing stickers to cover the erroneous text.

“We apologise for an unfortunate typographical error in our first President Yusof Ishak’s name in the folder containing the SG50 notes,” said an MAS spokesperson in a statement. “We are printing stickers to replace the misspelt part of his name. The stickers will be affixed to the folders available from the banks, from Aug 25 onwards. Those who have already collected the folders may also obtain the stickers then.”

…MAS managing director Ravi Menon issued a statement late Thursday, taking full responsibility for the error. “This should never have happened, is not acceptable, and I take full responsibility. I apologise on behalf of my colleagues who worked hard to prepare the notes and folders but are deeply disappointed that we made this most unfortunate mistake. We will put this right,” he said.

See what you've done MAS.

Look what you’ve done MAS.

I hope no one gets fired over this boo-boo, and MAS did the right thing admitting their mistake first before someone noticed and posted it online. Chances are you’re more likely to stare at the artwork and play with the 3-D hologram on the currency before reading a single word of introductory text. Wonder if anyone will queue overnight to get the corrective stickers though. Personally I wouldn’t line up again to get one that says ‘Yusof’, or if MAS is as stingy with the recovery budget as they are with proofreading, an ‘F’. F, for FAIL.

Incredibly, people have been making the ‘Yusok’ mistake way before this spectacular gaffe. A trawl through Twitter uncovered these gems more than 3 years ago, when ‘Yusok Ishak’ was the affectionate name people gave to cash in their wallets.

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Well at least the English on the notes itself is clean, unlike the disaster in 1992 when ‘Board of Commissioners’ was spelt as ‘Commissoners’ on commemorative $2 bills (Spelling error in special issue $2 bills, 4 July 1992, ST). You would, however, expect some critics to complain about the ugly artwork, or how the design looks like a ripoff of some other country’s currency, like our recently minted, Euro-looking, Third Series $1 coins.

Nevermind 50 years of nation-building, another commemorative exhibition last year titled ‘Singapura: 700 years’ was marred by ‘typos, inaccuracies and style inconsistencies’, with Perak’s ‘Slim River’ misspelt as ‘GRIM River’. The Singapore Symphony Orchestra was erroneously spelt as ‘Symphonic’ Orchestra.  Thank you R.M Arblaster sir for your astute nitpicking, though your complaint and call for formal proofreading apparently did little to convince MAS that spelling is paramount, especially when it comes to the name of our first PRESIDENT. Can you imagine if people spelt the deceased LKY’s name wrongly? Their Seventh Month would be very, well, eventful, to say to the least.

If there’s any consolation, ‘Yusok’ isn’t half as bad as spelling Obama as ‘Osama’.

Delicious Fengshan and the WP pot

From ‘Vote for a party whom you trust to manage your money and town council’, 14 Aug 2015, article by Edric Sng, CNA

…Referring to a post by WP chairman Sylvia Lim on her recently-started Instagram account, the Deputy Prime Minister said: “Now we see the chairman of the town council saying that Fengshan SMC looks quite delicious. What’s going to happen? You’re going to swallow up Fengshan? For what purpose? To serve the residents of Fengshan? Or is Fengshan delicious because you want to add it to the pot? And help the town council with the deficit?”

In her first post on Instagram On Tuesday, Ms Lim posted a picture of herself at Fengshan hawker centre with the caption, “The taste of Fengshan — heavenly!” The post was accompanied by the hashtag #reasonstowin.

    In the poison’d entrails throw.
Toad, that under cold stone,
Days and nights has thirty-one;
Swelter’d venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot!

                                – Three Witches, Macbeth

WP announced over the weekend that their A-team would continue to stay in Aljunied GRC, probably to the chagrin of our DPM who was hoping to bash the team further on their money troubles and adding things to their pot. TCH always had a ‘trust’ issue with the WP, and picked on meeting minutes before the 2012 Hougang by-election  in an attempt to expose the ‘integrity’ problem with Png Eng Huat. TCH also called out Low Thia Khiang for shedding ‘crocodile tears’ at the departure of Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew, that he was seizing on the chance to ‘squeeze political mileage’. Well, when is anything that the ruling party, or any party for that matter, has done so far NOT for the intention of gaining ‘political mileage’? It’s just a fancy term for ‘winning favour’.

I suppose once you’re in an indomitable position within government, you’ve no qualms about taking catty swipes at opponents, even more so now that WP’s champions will not be infiltrating the Pasir Ris-Punggol 6-member fortress as an answer to the ‘orh luak’ challenge after all. If TCH responds to the Fengshan deceit in his usual candour, it would make him look like Mr Wilson throwing a hissy fit at Dennis the Menace for trodding on his tulips #reasonstokaopeh. Low Thia Khiang has deftly parried TCH’s assault with the rhetoric about whether this is the ‘kind of politics‘ that Singaporeans want to have. Wonder if Sylvia Lim will post a picture of a longkang (gutter) next.

Outgoing minister Lui would know a thing or two about swallowing. His Moulmein-Kallang GRC was ravaged, chewed, spat out and engulfed by surrounding PAP-owned GRCs. Joo Chiat SMC, known as a foodie Mecca, was eaten up by Goh Chok Tong’s Marine Parade GRC. For now, Fengshan remains up for grabs, with even retiring Raymond Lim having had his fill of it already. There’s more to Fengshan than just a hawker centre famous for Bak Chor Mee, though. There’s Bedok Simpang and a florist called ‘Katong’ Flower Shop for some reason. In Chinese, Fengshan is literally ‘Wind Mountain’. We have a complaining Minister who’s ‘full of wind’, anchoring his ward like a ‘Tiger in the Mountain’.

At this point, the Fengshan Instagram debacle turned out to be less a teaser than strategic PAP bait, and TCH eagerly snapped it up. As a military man he should be all too familiar with psychological warfare, and with the WP vanguard using social media to play mind games, he should be careful not to fall for anymore traps that make him look, well, silly. If there’s anyone actually ‘winning’ out of this, it’s the Fengshan orh luak stall. They happen to sell Chai Tau Quay too. Maybe Chan Chun Sing can pop over and swallow that up. Not the XO version though.

BreadTalk passing off Yeo’s soya bean milk as ‘freshly prepared’

From ‘BreadTalk gets stern warning from CASE’, 7 Aug 15, article by Jessica Lim, ST

The Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) has issued a strongly- worded warning to bakery BreadTalk, informing the firm that its recent actions were in breach of the law. It also warned the company that it would take action should such “flagrant breaches” continue.

The bakery chain came under fire for selling soya bean milk from Yeo’s in bottles labelled “freshly prepared” at many of its outlets.

A video of a BreadTalk worker pouring the drink from a Yeo’s carton into the bottles, which was widely circulated on the Internet, had sparked off the angry reaction.

…”The questionable practice by BreadTalk is unacceptable,” said Case executive director Seah Seng Choon. “By indicating the words ‘freshly prepared’ on the bottles, consumers may reasonably be deceived or misled to believe that the soya bean milk was freshly brewed in-house and therefore commands a higher value than Yeo’s pre-packed soya bean milk.”

Hey BreadTalk, Soya think you can cheat customers, eh? The company reportedly repacked and sold 350ml bottles at $1.80, from 1L packs of Yeo’s from Fairprice at $1.50 (probably currently going at 50% cheaper because of SG50). The question of what a bakery is doing selling soya bean milk aside, this cost-cutting stunt appears to be a desperate attempt to recuperate from the LKY bun fiasco back in April. If anything, this incident serves as a warning to consumers to educate themselves about how ‘Big Bread’ sources and markets their wares, and how ‘natural’ BreadTalk’s  ‘Natural Yeast Bread’ really is.

Food scams aren’t new. As far back as the early 1900’s, merchants were passing off butter as ‘cheap margarine’. One furious Forum writer compared the Yeo’s deceit to the case of meat suppliers passing off beef as mutton.  We panicked about the horsemeat scandal affecting our Ikea Swedish meatballs. Milk formula giant Wyeth sneaked lutein, unapproved as a nutrient by AVA, into their products. Yet despite all the lies and scares, we trust our AVA to do their jobs; that we don’t end up eating mislabelled, taboo meat, or pay a premium for something that you could get in bulk at a petrol kiosk during a CNY promotion. Fortunately for us, we were spared the raisin muffin aluminium scare which broke in BreadTalk HK back in 2014.  Not sure if these were labelled as ‘Freshly Smelted’.

BreadTalk apologised for the ‘misaligned presentation‘ in their Facebook page, which is a sugar-coated way of saying ‘we cocked up’. Sure, nobody got poisoned by the in-house repackaging, and one could argue that if you’re running a public listed company, some corner-cutting is likely to tolerated. I don’t expect your soup to be ‘home-brewed’, or even your bottled juice to be ‘freshly squeezed’. In fact, we all need to take such claims with a pinch of salt. Restaurants dress up their dishes with seductive claims all the time, whether it’s ‘slow-cooked’, ‘hand-made’, ‘homemade’, ‘organic’ or worse, ‘ARTISANAL’. We see things like ‘Natural Flavour’ in our foods but don’t think twice before dropping it in our shopping carts. It’s all in the marketing, but unlike BreadTalk, at least most people bother to hide their tricks away from concerned customers. I mean, just look at this Ferrero Rocher ad. It features a guy wearing an actual chef’s hat. And hazelnuts picked with fine tweezers.

If there’s anything that BreadTalk management knows it’s how to trim expenses. Founder George Quek was himself selected to be part of a ministerial pay review committee in 2011. They were also accused of discriminatory hiring practises, with one Malaysian HR manager reportedly signing up only his own countrymen. Well, as the saying goes – Talk is Cheap.

SG50 salary bonus should be for everyone

From ‘Extend SG50 bonus to all’, 19 June 2015, ST Forum

(Sim Ghee Choon): IT IS encouraging to hear that a $500 bonus will be given to civil servants (“Civil servants to get $500 in special SG50 payment”; yesterday). However, it is disheartening that Singaporeans who work in the private sector will miss out on this jubilee celebration.

Stay-at-home mothers who are taking care of the next generation and retirees will also not be similarly rewarded. Would the Government consider giving this bonus to all citizens in their Central Provident Fund accounts instead?

If the writer had done his homework, he would have known that DBS Bank had already given employees ranked vice president and below TWICE the civil service bonus (Companies urged to recognise employee’s contributions with special SG50 reward, 29 May, ST). SMRT also rewarded their staff with $500 worth of shopping vouchers. If the Government had decided to give not just civil servants, but EVERYONE in the country $50 cold hard cash ($500 would be ridiculous), people would still be complaining as if a millionaire relative just gave them a $4 ang pow during CNY .

One gripe that non-civil servants have towards the SG50 bonus, other than it not being distributed to every citizen, crooks and that bastard neighbour included,  is that it comes from taxpayers’ pockets. In 2003, a freelance journalist suggested in a Today commentary that the civil service is a burden to other Singaporeans who don’t live off an ‘iron rice bowl’, that those who work for the government ‘do not generate wealth’, and 1 in 9 people in the private sector is supporting a civil servant. That would be seeing the civil service in pure economic terms, without realising that that civil service extends beyond paper-pushing bureaucrats to the people that keep the streets safe, our young ones educated, and ensure the ill and infirmed are well taken care of. Yes, the same folks who will be working and sweating their butts off while the rest celebrate SG50 in August.

In 1971, Dr Toh Chin Chye was against the policy of dishing out civil service bonuses, for the very fact that this may become a ‘political issue’. To quote the man:

If Prime Minister Lee says to give each one a bonus, then I’m sure the confidence of the people in the Government will collapse.

As he predicted, once the bonus floodgates opened in a bid to keep the civil service ‘attractive’ and ‘clean’, ministries included, people began to question how the Government spent our hard-earned money. Today, those who don’t get the SG50 cut frantically take out their calculators and deduce what could be bought with that enormous sum of money ($71 million to be exact, according to TOC). No two people will ever agree, however, on how best the money should be spent. For every suggestion to pump dollars into ‘the arts’, there are others calling for more hospital beds, affordable housing or adding a Harry Potter attraction to Universal Studios.

Then there are those who call the Government out for vote-buying and begin to speculate on the timing for the next election. Though it may seem that $500 is the crunchiest carrot of the truckload of goodies that they have been dishing the past few years, any gratitude and pleasure over this bonus may just diminish over time due to hedonistic adaptation. It may be ‘Wow!’ one moment, and ‘Meh’ the next, simply because it doesn’t feel like you earned the $500 out of your individual achievements, especially since every Tom, Dick and Harry in the civil service got what you got. Besides, you don’t need to tempt civil servants to vote in the PAP. The whole system was designed such that they have an obligation to do so anyway.

The problem is that it’s impossible for the Government to know what EVERY damn Singaporean wants, nor should they pander to people who become instant financial advisors once there’s goodies to be given out. They declare an additional SG50 public holiday but some of us complain that we still need to work on shift, while those who don’t need to work take the opportunity to zip out of the country for a long weekend vacation like the ungrateful brats that we are. They give us fun packs but we complain that these are bloody useless and a waste of money. They give us free public transport and we scoff at their ability to deal with the impending crowds. They give our babies SG50 slings and we ask why no milk powder vouchers instead. They donate money to disaster-hit areas and we complain that we could have done more. They give electricity bill discounts and we complain that this encourages indiscriminate use and hurts the environment. If we push our luck any further, the Government may just use the spare dough to ship the whole lot of us to some Third World village for a week, just for us to see ‘how good we have it’ here, that we should be thankful we even get paid at all.

ST editor Chua Mui Hoong thinks that the $500 lacks sincerity (Cold hard cash lacks warm, fuzzy feeling, 21 June, Sunday Times), and compares the bonus to a man giving his girlfriend cash instead of making the extra effort to find out what she really wants.  She even thought of a ‘special gold-plated medallion’ to commemorate the event, like what we give to SG50 babies, which I would reject on the spot because it’s like a clueless relative giving you redundant kitchenware during Christmas. At least you can fetch a higher price selling crockery on Carousell. Nobody wants your stupid SG50 medallion, not even people with a fetish for medallion smelling. Hell, if you want sincerity and love let’s just forget the money and instead have our MPs come deliver to every Singaporean 50 seconds of hugs and kisses then.

Burning joss paper leading to lung cancer

From ‘Restrict incense burning to places of worship’, 15 June 2015, ST Forum

(Madam Wah Yan Chan): I AGREE with Mr Mckeena Neo (“Common corridors not the place for burning incense paper”; June 2). While our forefathers may have burnt joss paper and incense sticks as a sign of devotion, they probably did so without knowing that such burning produces a cocktail of harmful carcinogens that may cause conditions such as asthma and, in the long term, can lead to life-threatening diseases such as lung cancer.

Causing inconvenience and harm to others should never be justified on the bases of religion and tradition. Surely Singapore should have a law prohibiting the burning of incense and joss paper in common areas and restricting the practice to designated places of worship.

There are regulations in the Environmental Public Health Act that stipulate how many joss sticks and candles with specific dimensions may be burnt in premises such as an ‘enclosed space’ or a temple. When burning cancerous joss paper, however, the public is merely advised to use burning pits and containers provided by town councils and clean up their mess after satisfying the gods, but that doesn’t stop people from doing it just outside your HDB flat. The writer above is clearly convinced that burning joss paper increases one’s risk of cancer and should be banned from public areas. The problem is she’s somehow OK with people getting cancer in ‘designated places of worship’.

Whether or not joss paper has the same risk as cigarette smoke is up for debate, since I believe no one has done extensive epidemiological studies on joss paper as we have for tobacco. What is certain, however, is joss paper is a potential fire hazard, especially if people are appeasing their ancestors near a PETROL STATION. Even burning them in bins as recommended by the authorities may lead to explosions in your FACE if there’s a stray aerosol can lying within. In 1976, a blaze ripped through a Jalan Ubi village, rendering 16 locals homeless. It started when burning joss paper flew into a mattress factory. If only the Fire department had SPRUNG into action faster then.

You may think we’re relatively safe because we don’t live in attap houses anymore, but God help you if a stray hot ash lands on your curtain.  You could say a lit cigarette may cause hell on Earth as well, but the trajectory of burning ash in the wind is more unpredictable, and it’s harder to catch the culprit because it could have blown in from anywhere. It could be a little girl behind it following her parents’ instructions to send money to Grandma’s account in the Netherworld. Do we, then, need to wait for someone to perish from a freak joss paper fire, not to mention asthma or lung cancer, before we do something?

Curbing a religious practice may have, well, inflammatory repercussions, and may explain why the authorities are slow to crack down on joss paper burning, even doing little to stop worshippers from aggravating the haze and pissing off asthmatics some years back. Interestingly, one of the stories behind how joss paper was invented involves a con-job by a paper inventor Cai Lun, who tried to boost paper sales by faking his own death and getting his wife to bribe the King of Hell to return his soul through joss offerings. Today, it has morphed into a custom of filial piety and endearing superstition, though one incompatible with our bid for a ‘clean and green’ future. Then again, we’re still seeing ever more cars on the road, trees being cut down to be replaced by condos and people continuing to smoke like chimneys because the government has banned all ‘smokeless’ tobacco products. At least the burning of joss paper, for all its environmental damage, is a small price to pay if it stops ghosts, demons and the evil dead from popping out of hell portals in what’s left of Bukit Brown and haunting the shit out of us all.

I forsee the practice dying out by the next generation anyway, provided we all don’t die of joss-induced cancer, asthma or in a fiery inferno anytime soon.

Uber and Grabtaxi drivers requiring a vocational licence

From ‘Uber, Grabtaxi drivers may need vocational licence’, 10 June 15, article by Zachary Soh, My Paper

DRIVERS who run chauffeur services under ride-booking apps such as Uber could be required to obtain a vocational licence in the future.  While they are currently free from this requirement, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said yesterday that it is looking into removing this exemption, as a way to ensure the safety of passengers taking private-hire rides.

In a forum letter published in The Straits Times, LTA noted that chauffeured vehicle services have become more accessible to the public with technology and given the industry’s recent growth, it is studying possible measures to safeguard commuter interest. The cab community has cried foul recently, following news of ride-matching apps and rental companies working together to run their own fleet of “taxis”.

The rental firms lease out cars to drivers at a rate cheaper than taxis. The drivers then use the vehicles to fulfil bookings from apps like Uber and GrabTaxi. These companies and drivers, however, do not have to meet the stringent requirements imposed on the taxi industry, such as vocational training.

…Meanwhile, Uber drivers have told The Straits Times that the time and money required to take a vocational course will be an extra burden for them. One driver, Yu Kim Reed, 30, asked why vocational licences have to be implemented now, given that chauffeur services have been around for so long. “The only difference is that a (car hire) call centre has been replaced by the Internet,” Mr Yu said.

According to the Sunday Times (Are ride-matching apps an UBER problem, 14 June 2015, ST), some Uber drivers do in fact ply their trade like ‘chauffeurs’. One subscriber known as ‘Marcus’ supplies mints, newspapers, water, even a socket for phone charging for his customers. Uber also has a strict rating system whereby any score below an average of 4.3 (out of 5) warrants a suspension or total ban, so drivers are forced to go the extra mile, sometimes literally.

Other requirements before becoming a full-fledged Uber driver include a 2 hour training session, online lessons, up to $5000 commercial insurance, and setting up your own company and registering your car for commercial use should you choose to drive your own vehicle. All that, however, doesn’t ensure passenger ‘safety’ as what LTA is hung up about. Then again, your safety isn’t guaranteed even if you’re in the backseat of a ‘proper’ taxi anyway, especially if you’re drunk and vulnerable.

One ride-sharing/matching app supporter explained in a letter to the ST that the business model satisfies a genuine need among frustrated passengers who have tried calling call centres and forced to ‘listen to their holding music’ (Ensure licensing doesn’t stifle progress, 12 June 2015, ST Forum). He also hinted at an element of ‘protectionism’ given that main players like Comfort Delgro, having tremendous ‘economies of scale’, still reap profits despite their high rental costs. As the occasional app-user myself, I tend to agree that there is a market for such services, more so if my Uber ride includes complementary perks like an iPhone charger or a bottle of champagne.  It is also a wake up call for regular cabbies not to disappear just before midnight charges kick in, not to rely on the customer for directions, or drive like demented road warriors in Mad Max.

Financial factors like app companies taking a cut from your earnings aside, 3rd party booking apps have their share of problems too. Grab Taxi requires you to exchange handphone numbers with cabbies, for instance. Passengers could screw you over by cancelling last minute or not appearing at the designated pick-up spot. You still risk having someone puke all over your backseat, or rob you with a box-cutter. Someone got duped into paying $97 to a fake Uber driver. But that is how ‘market forces’ work. If you want your privacy, or if you don’t trust private cars, take the train, but bear with the crowd and breakdowns, or fight with other flag-down passengers.

Ride-sharing/matching is still, at the very least, more reassuring than the ‘pirate taxis’ that once roamed the streets.  These flourished as early as the mid fifties, when entrepreneurial drivers capitalised on the bus strikes to perform a public service when people could no longer rely on the main form of public transport. Business was so competitive in fact, pirates were willing to charge 5 CENTS per mile and provide ‘doorstep’ escorting services.  It’s a misuse of the traditional use of the word ‘pirate’, though. These drivers aren’t plundering from anyone. They’re pirates like how people operate ‘pirate radio’ before the Internet. Comfort DelGro is your ‘Top Hits’ station, with the same old songs played to death, while Uber/Grab Taxi is where you get to hear the ‘cool stuff’ without ‘royalties’.

Of course, the Government had to clamp down on these guys and declare all out war, not so much that passengers were harmed by it, but because they had to protect the interests of our taxi-drivers, who were partly the reason why pirates had their supporters in the first place. Taxi drivers then tend to ‘choose’ tourists over locals, and people complained about their ‘attitude’ after an evening at the cinema. Today, taxis choose to wait in queue outside our casinos rather than pick you up when you’re stranded in some godforsaken ulu place past midnight. By the time you get an actual human voice on the Comfort Cab booking line, you would have been assaulted and left to die pants-down by the road.

In 1970, the Government coerced drivers into ‘job conversion’ in a bid to phase out pirate operations, and anyone who continued to go pirate would be fined and have their ride confiscated. In 1971, a man who depended on pirating as his livelihood was driven to suicide by traffic offences slapped by the police, among other debt woes. By 1975, the pirates returned to the new towns, because the waiting time for the only bus on the road was probably longer than that needed to set up your one-man taxi business.  Even if bus frequencies have since improved, we sometimes still watch helplessly as bus after bus zooms by, the captain ignoring your flailing arms, oblivious that there’s a gaping hole in the middle because nobody wants to move in.

Today, the authorities are considering a softer approach in contrast to the ‘Operation Pirate Taxi’ blitz of the past, but the fact that we’re even discussing frameworks and legislation now despite our ‘world class’ transport system, in view of the high demand for these apps (6 companies and counting, the LTA one not included), suggests that not enough is being done to move people around an increasingly crowded city efficiently. Well yes, there are good and bad Comfort drivers, just like there are good and bad Uber/Grab Taxi drivers, but there isn’t enough evidence to say that the one without an official licence is more likely to drive you off a pier and plunge into the river. For the record, regular taxis have driven into condo pools before. At least I know which of the two is more likely to carry a float just in case the unimaginable happens.

Instead of a knee-jerk reaction of mandatory licensing, the first thing LTA should work on is figuring out what’s wrong with the current system, and consider the benefits of these apps not just in terms of moving the public, but as a form of employment, without having their judgement fudged by taxi giants with vested interest in seeing the demise of their hi-tech rivals.  In the meantime, if I want an ‘uber’ chauffeur service at a fraction of the price of an actual limousine, I know who to call.

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