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 “The only difference is that a (car hire) call centre has been replaced by the Internet,” Mr Yu said.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.

Taxi in Bukit Timah condo swimming pool

From ‘How did this taxi end up in Bukit Timah condo swimming pool?’ 10 Nov 2013, Stomp

A taxi ended up in the swimming pool of a Bukit Timah condominium in the early hours of this morning (Nov 10). Stomp contributor Saiful and his friends noticed the cab when they looked out of the window of a condo unit. The reader says it was raining heavily at the time.

…”My friends and I were partying at a friend’s condo at Bukit Timah. “It was raining heavily and we decided to call a cab, but we couldn’t get one. When we looked out of the balcony, we saw a cab below, and later realized it was in the pool.”

“We went down to take a closer look, but didn’t see the driver. It happened at around 3am this morning.”

Cabbie had a rough night

Cabbie had a rough night

According to Ch8’s Instagram page, it was in the Southaven One condo where the uninvited guest took a dip in the pool. Amazingly, this isn’t the first time that a cab got itself submerged in a private residence. In 2004, cabbie Ling Hong Lim drove into the Kentish Lodge pool at Oxford Road, saying that his vision was blurred due to a heavy downpour, and that the pool looked to him like a ‘big puddle’ then. The Southaven incident matches the series of events which happened 9 years ago; heavy rain, condo, late night on a weekend. A wrong turn and before you know it pictures of your sunken cab are splashed all over the news. Thankfully, no one was hurt, not the driver, nor anyone having a midnight tryst in the pool.

No wonder taxi ridership has taken a plunge

Getting a vehicle trapped in a pool is no laughing matter, of course. It’s a loss in revenue, additional repairs incurred and you need to pay a crane to hoist your taxi out for you.

How does one even get a CRANE in there?

But of course that’s not going to stop the jokes from coming in fast and furious. The Asiaone FB page is flush with netizens making fun of the mishap, as if a soaking wet taxi hasn’t already put a serious damper on the driver’s income.

Screen Shot 2013-11-10 at 3

Falling headlong into large bodies of water isn’t the only case of things not going ‘swimmingly’ well for our cabbies recently. A few months ago, one found itself stuck on the stairs in NTU, on the way to the S4 building. Netizens were quick to post memes of the incident, calling it ‘Grand Theft Auto’. I thought that was a step too far. If it were a Mini-Cooper instead of a Comfort cab, I’m sure the driver could have manouevred himself back and up the stairs like it’s the normal thing to do.

Not a set on ‘The Italian Job’

Just last October, a taxi was found straddling a road divider in Tampines. Again, the cabbie was nowhere at the scene, and probably fled in embarrassment. It’s like being found with your foot trapped in the toilet bowl after taking a shit in it.

There’s no escape from this trap. NONE at all

A case of overworked cabbies or bad infrastructure, I wonder.

Later this morning, help was on the way in the form of a tow-truck, hauling the wet cab onto land, where cars are supposed to be. Not sure why they needed a crane years ago when a towline and a topless man could have done the trick. Spot the number of curious bystanders taking a snapshot of this bizarre scene below. The colour composition of this shot is amazing, by the way. The shades of blues capturing perfectly how this driver will feel tomorrow morning.

Screen Shot 2013-11-10 at 4

But just look at the girth of the path leading up to the pool. You could drive a damn BUS right through it! Something needs to be done about the lighting or barricades near condo pools really, before more vehicles get tricked into getting ‘ponded’ and something tragic happens whereby the swimming pool becomes a cold, watery grave not just for the taxi itself, but the driver as well.

Personalised taxi service is a happy buyer, happy seller situation

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?

Killer Ferraris on congested roads

From ‘Gerard Ee rejects call for curbs on fast cars’, 15 May 2012, article by Ethan Lou, My Paper

MR GERARD Ee, chairman of the Public Transport Council, has rejected calls for tougher restrictions on high-performance sports cars following the fatal three-vehicle collision in Bugis involving a Ferrari.

Instead, he blamed reckless drivers and not fast cars. “Low-performance cars can also be going at 100kmh and beat the red light,” Mr Ee told my paper last night. In a post on citizen-journalism website Stomp yesterday, a netizen known as “Ban it” proposed that high-performance sports cars be banned on congested Singapore roads.

The netizen wrote: “As a small country, should we accommodate such high-performance cars on our increasingly packed roads?”

While most Singaporeans are reeling from the shocking video, others are hurling abuse at the dead PRC speedster. The reactions from Twitter are flushed with unanimous anger towards the departed, with insults like ‘bastard’ ,’Ferrari fucker’ and terms like ‘murder’ being tossed around. A case of flogging a dead horse perhaps, but anyone who has seen how the maniac smashed into the taxi with the relentless ferocity no Michael-Bay special effects could possibly match, killing two innocent people, would be tempted to think the Ferrari driver was asking for it. It adds an ironic twist to how someone once suggested that there should be a death penalty for speeding. Taxis seem to bear the brunt of sports car collisions; In April 2011 and July 2008, taxis collided with a Lamborghini and Mitsubishi Evo 9 respectively, the latter fatal for the taxi-driver involved.

The media is still milking the tragedy dry with the expected ‘mystery nightclub hostess’ angle, hoping to reap some scandalous, poetic justice out of a terrible situation for all families involved. Taking these monsters off the road won’t help matters, and nobody who could afford to drive a Ferrari would waste it by sticking to the speed limit. Like guns Ferraris don’t kill people, drivers do. Except that while most of us yield pistols, those who could afford it go for machine guns and missile launchers. This guy was freaking Rambo, and he bit the bullet hard.

It’s easy to associate Ferrari drivers with a certain ‘fast and furious’, decadently lavish, Type A lifestyle, though some loutish towkays who pick fights with random youths may own one too. In some tragic cases, the allure of  the testosterone and adrenaline cocktail that comes with driving such cars prove too much for children of FATHERS who own them (Mazda MX-5) (Teens killed in horrific Sixth Ave  car crash, 5 June 2008, ST). Still, most owners should be familiar with the temperament of their beasts and pay extra caution on the roads BECAUSE they are Ferraris, and because they’re expensive. Ma Chi could have been an experienced racer with hardly any incident during his racing streaks, no thanks to the bewildering generosity and ‘support’ from a wife who allowed her husband to sneak out with his toy in the wee hours to break the law, oblivious to how dangerous his addiction to speed is. Even the professionals on the circuit crash and burn, and maybe this isn’t really about drunkedness, the distraction of an attractive hostess/mistress, or whether PRCs can drive, but simply horrible luck; You can totally trash a sports car but still end up unhurt, while your passenger gets killed all because of you.

In 2010, Regan Lee lost control of a Mazda MX-5 during a test drive, and the car ‘flew over the road divider, smashed head-on into a black BMW, flipped over it and crashed down into a van in the other lane’ – an orgy of wanton destruction. You would have thought the guy would have been pulverised to bits, but he emerged unscathed. His female passenger, on the hand, was killed and all he got was a driving suspension. Maybe these guys were playing Stare and Drive,  like what the folks from Fast and Furious do to impress girls.

PRCs ‘abducting’ boy at AMK Hub

From ‘ PRC couple attempts to abduct local boy?’ 22 March 2012, article in insing.com

A woman has complained on the internet that a Chinese national couple tried to abduct her child at Ang Mo Kio Hub. Ms ‘Allison Goon’ shared her experience on her Facebook page, explaining that she was at the AMK Hub Fiesta on Sunday (18 Mar).

She had just fed her son and walked away to throw some rubbish when she turned back and found another woman taking her son away by his hand. She shouted after her son and asked the woman why she was holding her son’s hand.

The woman, who spoke with a China accent, replied that she had “the wrong child”, then walked away with another man while pretending that nothing had happened. When Ms Allison Goon asked her son why he had followed the stranger, the boy said that the woman had told him, “follow me, I will bring you home”.

According to the ST, ‘Ms Goon said the woman had spoken in Mandarin and sounded like she could have been from China’. Whether or not this incident really happened, it speaks volumes about the recent paranoia surrounding Chinese nationals, whether they’re flaming us online for being ‘dogs’, hijacking taxis and running people over with them or murdering taxi drivers themselves,  stealing men from their wives, and in this case, attempting to steal other people’s children. Which is pretty much consistent with what foreigners have been accused of doing anyway, taking away what’s rightfully ours.

In 2008, a China national set up a phantom kidnap scam in exchange for $100,000 and was eventually thwarted by a quick-thinking parent. There was even a recorded anonymous Chinese child’s cry for help circulating last year according to a Stomp contributor. A similar ‘attempted abduction’ case occurred in Disneyland Hongkong in the same year, sparking speculations of PRC ‘kidnapping syndicates’. There doesn’t appear, however, to be any cases of successful kidnapping/torturing of local kids by PRCs to date. In fact, it was a China national’s kid who was kidnapped and brutally murdered at the hands of a Malaysian Took Leng How in the Huang Na case in 2004. In 2009, a 28 year old PRC KTV hostess named Han Yan Fei went missing, with speculations that a murdered Singaporean man and a human trafficking ring were involved.  Statistically speaking, PRCs should be more concerned for their own kids’ safety (or themselves) than us ours.

I wouldn’t be able to appreciate the high anxiety parents face whenever a child disappears into thin air, but terrified parents like Goon here sending out almost-horror stories of predatory PRCs would inevitably lead to panicky knee-jerk reactions like parents huddling kids and getting ready to call the police whenever someone who remotely looks or sounds like a PRC flashes a seemingly over-friendly wink or a smile at their child.  It’s like how people instinctively breathe through their mouth whenever a foreign construction worker boards the train, forgetting that some schoolgirl passengers in PE attire with towels wrapped around their neck smell as bad, if not worse. It also explains why toddler leashes are such a hit.

Still, one can’t get too cosy with any stranger, be it foreigner or local; a sensational history of PRC vice and violence has simply heightened our suspicions and hence the stereotypical cautionary anecdotes like Goon’s here. We would have taxi drivers having their hand on the emergency button whenever a PRC passenger’s on board, bus passengers bracing themselves for hazardous brakes when the driver’s a PRC, wives clamping down on husbands if they find out about his PRC colleague, etc.  Instead of drilling maths algorithms and phonetics into our kids or lamenting that Singapore is a PRC thief haven, perhaps we should consider inculcating some basic defensive skills in children like our parents used to do, like how to say no to strangers, screaming at the top of your lungs to draw attention, or headbutting a kidnapper in the groin when push comes to shove.

Seng Han Thong’s nightmare before Christmas

From ‘MP Seng not racist, says Shanmugam’, 25 Dec 2011, article by Teo Wan Gek, Sunday Times

…During a Channel NewsAsia programme Blog TV, which aired on Monday, Mr Seng made a comment which some found to be racist. He was asked about the lack of communication with passengers during the evening peak-hour breakdown of MRT trains last Thursday.

In his response, he misquoted an SMRT officer, who had earlier said: ‘Our staff at the stations and in the trains may not be making sufficient announcements and also good enough announcements. And that’s because our staff of different races, it could be Malay, Chinese, or Indians or any other race, they sometimes find it difficult to speak in English.’

But Mr Seng, when rebutting the officer’s comments, mentioned only Malay and Indian train drivers. He later clarified that he misheard the SMRT officer’s remarks, which he had heard over radio while driving.

…Mr Seng has since apologised for his remarks.

It’s Christmas Day, and instead of government officials sending well wishes or attending to holiday ‘ponding’, they’re spending time on damage control over an MP’s blooper, or Freudian slip, whatever critics want to call it. A driver who’s unable to calm passengers in the midst of an emergency breakdown is a victim of inadequate training, drills and SOPs. As an organisation with a rigid mastery over templates, surely there should be some standard announcements in place to aid anxious train drivers during disruptions.  This is all just one finger-pointing and tactless blame-shifting after another between various MPs, an SMRT vice president named Goh Chee Kong, and train drivers . If this incident and Desmond Choo’s backfired sexist anecdote tells us anything, it’s that politicians need to stop paraphrasing totally, or learn how to use the disclaimer ‘I quote’ or read excerpts out loud from pieces of paper instead.

In Seng’s defence, he seems to suggest that ‘broken English’ is OK when desperate times call for it, which runs counter to the efforts of our Speak Good English campaign, that lapsing into sub-par English is our ‘default’ setting in stressful situations, while putting on Good English politeness for mundane things such as telling someone that you need to ‘excuse yourself’ for the washroom is expected of us.  In fact, broken English/Singlish, by doing away with time-wasting grammatical formalities, would be ideal in a situation where every second counts and sounding professional should be the least of your worries. The problem is speaking English of any sort, whether broken or of the pristine BBC standard, isn’t very useful when one considers elderly passengers who would be more prone to fainting spells or injuries in the event of a disruption, in which you would have to depend on good Samaritans to do the necessary translation, provided of course that the driver is relaying the right instructions, and that passengers are not busy smashing windows for air in panic. You can bet SMRT will not be happily celebrating their annual Xmas dinner, despite earning the title of the year’s biggest turkey. Even if there was some form of celebration, you can bet no one wants to be caught pants down being treated like a pharaoh like CEO Saw Phaik Hwa in a previous DnD. You probably wouldn’t see the Dim Sum Dollies providing the night’s entertainment as well.

Seng Han Thong’s faux pas is mild compared to the remark on Indians by ex-MP and soon to be convict (twice) Choo Wee Khiang, whose atrocious joke on skin colour qualifies as true racism.  But being labelled a racist and trolled online isn’t the worst that this man has suffered. In Jan 2009, MP Seng was literally FLAMED by an assailant whilst attending a community event as Yio Chu Kang GRC MP. He was inflicted with burns on 15% of his body and his attacker was determined to be a 70 year old retired taxi driver who was subsequently admitted to IMH. Even then, not everyone was sympathetic, with some forum users adopting a ‘let this be a lesson to MPs for bullying the elderly‘ tone, adding ‘fuel to the fire’. The MP torcher was even lauded as a ‘courageous hero’ by others.

It appears that MP Seng has a history of drawing the ire of crazy old taxi drivers. Earlier in July 2006, he was punched in the face, again by a 70-plus former cab driver during a Meet the People session. The attacker was reportedly unhappy that his contract was terminated by ComfortDelgro and demanded an answer from his MP. Despite being boxed in the face and suffering the trauma of being burnt alive, this man continues to serve, though he  might be wearing asbestos underwear wherever he goes and have a phobia of blowing birthday candles for the rest of his life.

Merry Christmas everyone.

One man’s breakdown is another’s income opportunity

From ‘SMRT says sorry for its message to cabbies’, 16 Dec 2011, article by Daryl Chin, ST

SMRT has apologised for a message it broadcast to its fleet of taxis yesterday amid the chaos on the subway system. The message, which flashed on its drivers’ screens at about 8pm, read: ‘Income opportunity. Dear partners, there is a breakdown in our MRT train services from Bishan MRT to Marina Bay MRT stretch of stations.’

A photo of the screen – presumably taken by a passenger – soon appeared on social networking site Twitter and spread online, drawing sharp criticism.

‘Bad enough they are raising taxi fares, now they want to cash in on an event that is their fault to begin with,’ said sales assistant Candice Tan, 24, one of the many who tweeted about it.

Attempts to contact the photographer were unsuccessful. The message, presumably sent by SMRT call centrestaff, would have reached all 3,100 taxis in its fleet. An SMRT spokesman said last night: ‘We are sorry for the oversight. Our staff were using a template message, and we have since corrected it.’

Some More Revenue, Taxis!

The second breakdown in a week came after a Circle Line delay the day before. News of the trauma of passengers stuck in tunnels went live before SMRT could even recover from the backlash of its ‘official statement’ fiasco yesterday. Train windows were smashed out of desperation, passengers plunged into darkness and sent on a pitch-black tunnel march between City Hall and Dhoby Ghaut, images which anyone who’s seen the 90’s Sylvester Stallone disaster movie Daylight would find hauntingly familiar. I exaggerated in a previous post that SMRT was keeping silent because of zombie carnage in the train and on platforms, and looking at the state of chaos and the contorted faces of victims in agony, it appears that I wasn’t too far off the mark.

SMRT: Tunnel vision

Seems like SMRT is running out of ‘I’m sorry’ templates too. Here it’s ‘We are sorry for the oversight‘, last night it was:

We sincerely apologise for the inconvenience caused…Preliminary investigation shows that around 40m of the power rail had been damaged between the City Hall and Dhoby Ghaut stations.

Inconvenience, of course, is a gross understatement, especially if you have passengers gasping for air, resorting to sacrificing fire extinguishers to smash windows to stay alive. One can only guess at the kind of mixed feelings that cabbies would have capitalising on stranded, desperate commuters only too eager to head home after a hard day’s work, although the cruel coincidence of the two incendiary events (MRT breakdown, taxi fare hike) reeks of a backdoor cost-recovery conspiracy on the part of SMRT, which not only has to deal with ticket refunds and whatever damages sustained because of angry, oxygen-deprived mobs, but foreigners sueing them for negligence after having their legs pulverised by trains. Or perhaps so much attention was given to ‘security breaches’ that there were simply not enough people to inspect cables every once in a while. Give me a graffitti-strewn train that gets me to work and home on the dot rather than a squeaky clean one that disgorges passengers into tunnels smack  in the middle of nowhere.

SMRT isn’t the only body exploiting the misfortune of others. Just after the Japanese tsunami in March this year, Mediacorp sent out an email soliciting for advertisers who might be interested in ‘breaking news’ coverage, each 30-second commercial costing $5000. Edwin Koh, Senior Vice President, stepped up to ‘apologise unreservedly if we had been seen to be insensitive to the gravity of the situation’. Note that it could have been either Mediacorp or SMRT who wanted to hush up DJ Hossan Leong for tweeting about the Circle Line fault yesterday as well. But it’s only the amoral nature of business after all, and corporations like these two have been ‘cashing’ in way before the advent of social media, whether we like it or not. Pharmaceutical giants ‘cash in’ whenever there’s an outbreak of disease, weapon manufacturers in the event of war, and likewise a swarm of passengers with nowhere to go is prime catch for cabbies.  Whether you call it ‘good business’ or ‘income opportunity’, the fact of the matter, as it is everywhere else, is that there is always a market for misfortune. It’s just unfortunate that an ‘oversight’ exposed the unfeeling machine that SMRT really was all along. So much for ‘MOVING people, ENHANCING lives’ as its motto boasts, when it has done the exact opposite these past few days.

Tsunami=Income opportunity

Let’s not forget another player in the grand scheme of things; ComfortDelgro for raising fees in the first place, after which we’ve seen wave after wave of sociopathic behavior occurring, from old men vandalising taxis, to graffitti on taxi panels about how we’re like ‘donkeys’ and always ‘Pay and Pay’, and the most ‘Grand Theft Auto’ of them all, a Trans cab taxi going on a hit-and-run rampage across town. Police blamed it on DRUGS, naturally. Maybe it’s the same drug that the SMRT spokespeople have been taking these couple of days, one that depletes every ounce of empathy in your body. Then again, according to writer/film-maker/lawyer Joel Bakan, corporations  are inherently self-interested psychopaths, with one of the traits being a ‘callous unconcern for the feelings of others’. A big, fat ‘Check’.

Nobody died during the shutdown last night (though it was reported that one fainted), but if there’s anybody that should be ‘apologising unreservedly’ it should be an actual PERSON, not the epitome of insincerity  in the form of the collective ‘WE’, crafting a response with the cut-and-paste dexterity as one garbles swill from random leftovers for pigs. The only trait that separates a chief mafioso from a company head in the context of exploiting tragedies for personal profit is that the gangster never needs to apologise.  This is how conspiracy theorists would view this situation: If you’re stuck with a cure (fare hikes to alleviate cabbies’ miserable takings) which nobody wants to take, then you have to create the disease (train failures). The truth is ‘shit happens’, but adding to the stink with a ‘template oversight’ is just ‘full of it’.

We want to see a sorry face, not a sorry excuse for an answer.

Postscript: And here’s SMRT CEO Saw Phaik Hwa’s ‘very, very sorry face’ during a press conference later in the day. Isabella Loh must be thanking the heavens she never got into a seat as hot as this.

CEOs can resign, it is whether they choose to

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 362 other followers