Saturday, July 01, 2006

Taxis taxis where are you

Singapore Taxis - foreigners gush that Singapore's transport system is one of the best in the world. To them, it simply works. But to some other foreigners who have lived or worked in Singapore, the taxi service leaves much to be desired. This was highlighted in some newspapers reports recently.

To the locals, this is nothing new. We have been living day-in and day-out with the frustration and vagaries of our taxi services, particularly during peak hours, in the mornings between 8.30 and 9.30 and in the evenings between 4.30 and 8.30. This gets worst if you try to wait for a taxi downtown, in the business districts in Singapore. In spite of these, Singaporeans also know that the handphone can work miracles. The moment you secure a taxi, it miraculously shows up in a matter of minutes when previously, you'd be fortunate to even see an 'empty' taxi in half an hour. It is an open secret that taxi drivers prefer to pick up passengers through bookings rather than cruising, particularly nowadays, with the soaring prices of petrol. Interestingly, even Taxi Booking lines are now difficult to get through, which has exacerbated the problem of securing taxis even when commuters are willing to pay a premium.

I have never really understood why taxis never turn up when you most need them, and why they line up at empty taxi stands at certain times of the day. It is frustrating and ironic. However, I cannot begrudge a cab driver from wanting to earn more out of the vocation. All of us do that in our own ways in our own jobs. With the economy doing well and people earning more money, there is a distinct tendency for people, facing a long queue at a taxi stand, to whip up their handphones to do the obvious. Suddenly, roaming taxis do not come by anymore, or at least, the interval between their arrivals becomes longer and longer. But then, you wonder why the queue is so long in the first place. A case of chicken and egg, I guess.

I am always piqued when people book for taxis while standing in a taxi queue, particularly those behind me. They 'spoil the market' by agreeing to pay more, and thus increasing the average cost of taking a taxi for all the rest of us in the queue, since waiting longer is also costly. This makes me appreciate that time during the last recession when few people booked taxis, for obvious reasons. Then it was easier, and cheaper, fairer, and more pleasant to queue up for one.

I don't see these problems with taxis going away soon. Locals have lived with it for a long long time. Foreigners are beginning to appreciate that not all is well in paradise. The only likely solution is not to work within the established norm, but for some bright spark to invent an alternative way of ferrying people that is just as convenient, fast and comfortable as a taxi is nowadays, sans the waiting, that is. Buying a car in Singapore is not an option, unless you are willing to be tettered to even more bank loans. Any takers?

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