Sunday, February 25, 2007

Queue Logic

Getting a taxi in Singapore in certain locations at certain hours of the day on the island is a real bugbear. It is not uncommon for people to stand in line for over an hour before they can board one. So the LTA (Land Transport Authority) has come up with a 'brilliant' idea - put up signs at the taxi stands to inform would-be commuters the average waiting time for a cab. This will allow them to make an inform decision either to wait or to go somewhere else to wait. Apparently this has reduced the waiting times at 'notorious' taxi queues at Ngee Ann City, Paragon, etc. I wonder how long this heavenly state of affairs will last, though. (Well, not long, going by yesterday's Straits Times story about the waiting woes at Ngee Ann City).

One would have thought that the natural logic of clearing queues is to broadcast queue info to the taxis (instead of commuters) so that these drivers can head straight for the business instead of cruising aimlessly. Curiously, it doesn't work in Singapore. It isn't that our taxis are not equipped with the necessary receivers. In fact, almost every taxi in Singapore has an LCD-equipped, voice-enabled and satellite-based system that allows the taxis to take bookings. Strangely though, it isn't used to track places where there are most people waiting for a taxi.

You know why this is so? Because taking a taxi booking is more profitable than driving to a location to pick up passengers. Unlike Changi Airport and some selected remote corners of Singapore (e.g. Singapore Expo), cabbies are not re-imbursed for the trouble of getting to a particular location. Well, surely there must be cabs nearby that will take that little extra step to earn their keep? The problem, my friend, are those 'trigger happy', impatient and oh so superior people who cannot see themselves as queuers. Once they see more than 1 person in a queue, they would immediately whip up their cell phones to book for a taxi, 'spoiling the market' in the process. When cabbies detect that people are placing calls in the vicinity (yes, their equipment are THAT sophisticated), they'd naturally slow down, dive into a car park and wait for a booking. Its at least $3 extra for the dodging effort.

What can we do? This isn't a new problem. Its been there for a long long time. The only thing that solved this problem, for a while, was the economic recession of 2003 when everybody was careful about their last penny. Now in these times of plenty, they find it easier to throw a couple of bucks away. We are caught between a rock and a hard place indeed.

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